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:
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
"“Once our data gets out there, it tends to be stored forever,” said Arvind Narayanan, a Princeton computer science professor. “There are firms that specialise in combining data about us from different sources to create virtual dossiers and applying data mining to influence us in various ways.”"
"A first step for the professors is to measure the cultural bias in the standard data sets that many researchers rely on to train their systems. From there, they will move to the question of how to build data sets and algorithms without that bias. “We can ask how to mitigate bias; we can ask how to have human oversight over these systems,” says Narayanan. “Does a visual corpus even represent the world? Can you create a more representative corpus?”"
"“The idea that mainstream consumers will directly interact with blockchain technology—or any piece of code—without intermediaries is completely silly,” wrote Arvind Narayanan, a computer science professor at Princeton who studies blockchain, in an email. “I think that success in these markets will be driven primarily by economies of scale, and the openness of the underlying technology is irrelevant to consumers.”"
"Earlier this year, Arvind Narayanan, a professor at Princeton, conducted research about coins that are burnt and forever unspendable. “We have all heard stories of cryptocurrency owners losing private keys, and it is impossible to estimate how many coins have been lost this way,” he said."
"“Just how bad is online tracking?” asked Arvind Narayanan, a researcher at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy, as he made a personal plea to web browser companies to take control of a worsening situation. “It’s impressively bad.”"
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.