Arvind Narayanan is an Assistant Professor at Princeton's Department of Computer Science and Center for Information Technology Policy and an Affiliate Scholar at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society. He studies information privacy and security, and has a side-interest in tech policy. His research has shown that data anonymization is broken in fundamental ways, for which he jointly received the 2008 Privacy Enhancing Technologies Award. He is one of the researchers behind the "Do Not Track" proposal. You can follow Arvind on Twitter at @random_walker and on Google+ here.
The Do Not Track war has raged for well over a year now. There are, broadly, two Do Not Track proposals: one chiefly backed by the ad industry, and another advanced by privacy advocates. These proposals reflect vastly different visions for Do Not Track with vastly different practical consequences.
A 1993 New Yorker cartoon famously proclaimed, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." The Web is a very different place today; you now leave countless footprints online. You log into websites. You share stuff on social networks. You search for information about yourself and your friends, family, and colleagues. And yet, in the debate about online tracking, ad networks and tracking companies would have you believe we're still in the early 90s — they regularly advance, and get away with, “anonymization” or “we don’t collect Personally Identifiable Information” as an answer to privacy concerns.
Joint post with Jonathan Mayer.
Earlier today Mozilla announced support for Do Not Fool, a proposed mechanism for opting out of April Fools' pranks. We cannot support this misguided effort.
First, Do Not Fool would require fundamentally reengineering the Internet, the HTTP protocol, and countless websites. Many of your favorite web destinations like The Onion rely on fooling.
A frequent misconception of Do Not Track is that the goal is to prevent tracking by online advertisers. In fact, tracking is a much broader problem on the web, and our Do Not Track vision at Stanford, while principally aimed at "third-party" tracking, does not focus on specific industry segments. Barocas and Nissenbaum said it best:
Online tracking: A 1-million-site measurement and analysis is the largest and most detailed measurement of online tracking to date. We measure stateful (cookie-based) and stateless (fingerprinting-based) tracking, the effect of browser privacy tools, and "cookie syncing".
This measurement is made possible by our web measurement tool OpenWPM, a mature platform that enables fully automated web crawls using a full-fledged and instrumented browser.
Banks and financial institutions seem to be all over the blockchain. It seems they agree with the Bitcoin community that the technology behind Bitcoin can provide an efficient platform for settlement and for issuing digital assets. Curiously, though, they seem to shy away from Bitcoin itself. Instead, they want something they have more control over and doesn’t require exposing transactions publicly.
Consider three recent news articles about online privacy:
Google+ added a new feature that shows view counts on everything you post, including your photos. It’s enabled by default, but if you don’t want to be part of the popularity contest, there’s a setting to turn it off.
There is a new privacy tool called XPrivacy for Android that protects you from apps that are hungry for your personal information (it does this by by feeding them fake data).
Privacy Substitutes by Jonathan Mayer & Arvind Narayanan
"But not everyone believes gender bias should be eliminated from the data sets. Arvind Narayanan, an assistant professor of computer science at Princeton, has also analyzed word embedding and found gender, racial, and other prejudices. But Narayanan cautions against removing bias automatically, arguing that it could skew a computer’s representation of the real world and make it less adept at making predictions or analyzing data.
"Narayanan concludes in his post that Facebook’s anti-ad-blocking campaign is doomed, at least if it continues in the current vein of acting as if the social network can somehow neutralize ad blockers completely.
“This is a simple proof of concept, but the detection method could easily be made much more robust without incurring a performance penalty,” he writes. “All of this must be utterly obvious to the smart engineers at Facebook, so the whole ‘unblockable ads’ PR push seems likely to be a big bluff.”"
"“Facebook engineers could try harder to obfuscate the differences. For example, they could use non-human-readable element IDs to make it harder to figure out what’s going on, or even randomize the IDs on every page load. We’re surprised they’re not already doing this, given the grandiose announcement of the company’s intent to bypass ad blockers,” Arvind Narayanan and Grant Storey of the CITP wrote in a post analyzing the situation."
""Several features of the web...are being used or abused, depending on how one looks at it, by these tracking companies and various entities in the ad tech ecosystem," said study co-author Arvind Narayanan, an associate professor of computer science at Princeton. "They're being used in sneaky ways to track where users are going across the web.""
"Arvind Narayanan, an assistant professor at Princeton University, is hopeful that Apple’s privacy stand will pressure other companies to follow suit. The popularity of Snapchat’s disappearing messages, and the occasional outcry when a company is caught doing something that looks unseemly, show that people do care about privacy, even if the tech industry provides few opportunities to express that, he says.
Solutions to many pressing economic and societal challenges lie in better understanding data. New tools for analyzing disparate information sets, called Big Data, have revolutionized our ability to find signals amongst the noise. Big Data techniques hold promise for breakthroughs ranging from better health care, a cleaner environment, safer cities, and more effective marketing. Yet, privacy advocates are concerned that the same advances will upend the power relationships between government, business and individuals, and lead to prosecutorial abuse, racial or other profiling, discrimination, redlining, overcriminalization, and other restricted freedoms.
"Princeton's Arvind Narayanan and Steven Englehardt studied how all the things we do not see as users are valuable to someone on our digital trail, as our presence may be authenticated and tracked through such minutia as personalized browser settings or even our laptops' battery levels.
"While Google has used differential privacy to analyze user data from its Chrome browser, Apple is the first major tech company to adopt it more widely and publicly, said Arvind Narayanan, a computer scientist at Princeton University.
“That’s what makes this so exciting – both for the technology and for the future of privacy protection,” he explained.
In terms of challenges, Narayanan said the technology could come with extra costs.
CIS Affiliate Scholar David Levine interviews Prof. Arvind Narayanan of Princeton University on Bitcoin, cryptography, privacy and web transparency.
View the full video on YouTube.
Talk by Arvind Narayanan at the University of Maryland.
Based on a paper-in-progress by Arvind Narayanan and Joseph Bonneau
Abstract: Behind the hype and tumult of the markets, researchers have been quietly producing a series of exciting results about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. In this paper we’ll explain why computer scientists should pay attention to these developments.