Jonathan Mayer is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton University. Before joining the Princeton faculty, Jonathan served as the technology law and policy advisor to United States Senator Kamala Harris and as the Chief Technologist of the Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau. Jonathan's research centers on the intersection of technology and law, with emphasis on national security, criminal procedure, consumer privacy, network management, and online speech. Jonathan is both a computer scientist and a lawyer, and he holds a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.
We're pleased to announce we're beginning work on an IETF Internet-Draft for the Do Not Track header. We look forward to incorporating broad feedback.
In anticipation of the first version of the Internet-Draft, we're making a few minor updates to the header. The reference implementations at DoNotTrack.Us will be revised shortly.
"If you remove tracking, you remove advertisers." "Stop [data] sharing and you put a stop to the Internet as we know it." "Thousands of small websites may disappear." "Would you like to pay $20 a month for Facebook?" A spate of such recent commentaries have speculated that Do Not Track could hobble advertising-supported businesses. Here's why it won't.
Since our introduction of DoNotTrack.Us last week we've received a deluge of questions. This post answers some of the most common inquiries. If we haven't covered an issue you'd like a response on, shoot us an email and stay tuned - more Q & A posts are in the pipeline.
Q: Do Not Track does not block third-party tracking. Wouldn't that be a better solution?
Some privacy-conscious users block third-party tracking, most commonly through browser add-ons. This type of self-help is completely compatible with and complementary to Do Not Track; many Do Not Track users may elect to use blocking software. But blocking alone is not a complete solution to web tracking. Here are our chief concerns:
- Universal blocking is infeasible. Web security research (1, 2, 3) has uncovered dozens of means of tracking users; technical barriers to all these approaches are not practical. And a recent informal study of popular Firefox blocking add-ons suggests that blocking is, in practice, far from a universal opt out. Users should not be left guessing as to whether they've actually opted out of tracking.
- Blocking software requires perpetual development and user vigilance. There is frequent turnover of tracking services and tracking technologies. If a developer takes a break, its blocking tool will diminish in effectiveness. Users must, consequently, periodically ensure their blocking software is still maintained and up-to-date.
- Blocking inhibits third-party tools. A number of popular website tools and plug-ins are hosted by a third party that also tracks users. Blocking would disable these tools, while Do Not Track accommodates them.
The web privacy debate is stuck. Privacy proponents decry the diffusion of behavioral advertising and tracking services (1, 2, 3); industry coalitions respond by expounding the merits of personalized content and advertising revenue (1, 2). But for the average user, the arguments are academic: there is no viable technology for opting out of web tracking. A registry of tracking services, like privacy advocates proposed years ago, is cumbersome and unmanageable. Fiddling with cookies, as many advertising networks and anti-regulation advocates recommend, is an incomplete and temporary fix; both Google and NAI (an advertising industry association) have already moved away from opt-out cookies.
Do Not Track ends this standoff. It provides a web tracking opt-out that is user-friendly, effective, and completely interoperable with the existing web. The technology is simple: whenever your web browser makes a request, it includes an opt-out preference. It's then up to advertisers and tracking services to honor that preference – voluntarily, by industry self-regulation, or by law.
Arvind Narayanan and I have been researching Do Not Track for several months, and are pleased to now introduce DoNotTrack.Us, a compilation of what we've learned. The resource explains Do Not Track, provides prototype implementations, and answers some common questions. We'll be updating it in the coming months with new findings and responses to feedback.
Excited as we are about the Do Not Track technology, it is but a first step. Important substantive policy questions remain open: What tracking should be impermissible? When a user visits a site, what constitutes a third party? We look forward to collaborating with advertising networks, NGO's, regulators, lawmakers, and other stakeholders in answering these crucial questions.
Late last year the Obama administration reopened talks with Russia over the militarization of cyberspace and assented to cybersecurity discussion in the United Nations First Committee (Disarmament and National Security). My intention in this three-part series is to probe Russian and American foreign policy on cyberwarfare and advance the thesis that the Russians are negotiating for specific strategic or diplomatic gains, while the Americans are primarily procedurally invested owing to the “reset” in Russian relations and changing perceptions of cyberwarfare.
Cross-posted from Freedom to Tinker.
Blocking cookies is bad for privacy. That’s the new disingenuous argument from Google, trying to justify why Chrome is so far behind Safari and Firefox in offering privacy protections. As researchers who have spent over a decade studying web tracking and online advertising, we want to set the record straight.
Our high-level points are:
1) Cookie blocking does not undermine web privacy. Google’s claim to the contrary is privacy gaslighting.
By Jonathan Mayer and Edward W. Felten
Special to The Bee
By Edward Felten and Jonathan Mayer
Snooping on the Internet is tricky. The network is diffuse, global, and packed with potential targets. There’s no central system for identifying or locating individuals, so it’s hard to keep track of who is online and what they’re up to. What’s a spy agency to do?
Privacy Substitutes by Jonathan Mayer & Arvind Narayanan
"“Many folks were expecting Google to do something. When major competitors have come out with a much praised user feature, you can imagine they would come out with something that competes with that,” said Jonathan Mayer, an assistant professor of computer science at Princeton University. “This notion that blocking cookies is bad for privacy is completely disingenuous.”"
"Quitting Google is a major undertaking that may not be possible, said Jonathan Mayer, an assistant professor of computer science at Princeton University.
“The reality is, you’re going to use these services whether intentionally or not,” he said. “It is exceedingly hard to control the data flows of these companies.”"
"“What the Russian government aims to do is take online services out of the loop -- eliminating an important backstop for human rights and the rule of law. The Russian government's demand also poses a cybersecurity risk for all users of these online services, regardless of whether they're the target of surveillance,’’ Mayer told RFE/RL.""
"The NSA is allowed to collect records for individuals up to two times removed from targets, creating exponential growth in the total number of records. Without this “two hops” rule, the effectiveness of the program would be “greatly diminished,” according to Jonathan Mayer, a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University."
"“Unimpressive,” declared Princeton computer scientist Jonathan Mayer, who said the scheme would be easy for advertisers to evade. “This is not privacy leadership — this is privacy theater.”"
Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Chairman Adam Klein and Board Members Edward Felten and Jane Nitze have announced a May 31, 2019 public forum in Washington, DC to examine the USA FREEDOM Act and the government’s call detail records (CDR) program under that law. Several key provisions of the USA FREEDOM Act will sunset in December unless they are reauthorized by Congress.
Advanced technologies are revolutionizing how the government investigates, charges and prosecutes criminal cases—and defense attorneys must keep pace. Even small police departments can purchase powerful surveillance technologies, and internet companies collect vast troves of data on virtually everyone. This two-day CLE conference will discuss the government's use of technologically advanced investigative techniques in criminal cases, and the issues raised by those techniques under the Fourth Amendment and other federal law.
Cybersecurity and Privacy in the Internet Economy: Information Sharing, Data Security, and Intellectual Property
Because of Edward Snowden’s remarkable public service, we know that the National Security Agency, with the cooperation of some large firms, has amassed an unprecedented database of personal information. The ostensible goal in collecting that information is to protect national security. The effect, according to Reed Hundt, is to undermine democracy.
This talk presents an empirical assessment of the NSA’s legal restrictions, including research cited by President Obama’s intelligence review group. We find that present limits on bulk surveillance programs come up far short; authorities to intercept international Internet traffic and domestic telephone metadata place ordinary Americans at risk.
In this first episode, Mike and I explore how your simplest digital footprints – fragments of Google searches, Facebook likes, and innocuous tweets – can expose deeply intimate facts about you. Like whether your parents are divorced and whether you own a gun. In fact, these vanilla datasets that we all generate every time we use the Internet reveal surprising clues about our personalities and behavior. So how can that information be used, and who is collecting it? We talk to Michal Kosinski of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, and Jonathan Mayer, a computer scientist and lawyer.
As consumers increasingly adopt encryption tools, government officials have warned of the “Going Dark” problem – the notion that widespread encryption will thwart legitimate government efforts to investigate crime and safeguard national security. To address this problem, law enforcement and intelligence community officials have suggested that companies include “backdoors” in their products to permit lawful government access to encrypted data. This proposal has been met with criticism from technologists and privacy advocates alike.
"WELNA: It could indeed. Hackers, by definition, are trying to break into other people's computer accounts and steal their information, so monitoring their activity means watching them poach on other people's Internet usage and private data. I talked with Jonathan Mayer, a computer security fellow at Stanford who's reviewed these latest Snowden documents. He says because of the way the surveillance law is written, the NSA can actually hang on to that hacked information.
CIS Affiliate Scholar David Levine interviews Jonathan Mayer, Stanford Ph.D. candidate in computer science, author of Terms of Abuse: An Empirical Assessment of the Federal Hacking Law, and How to Fix It.
Listen to the full piece at Marketplace.org.
"Now Neustar might lose the contract to Ericsson, which is based in Sweden. Neustar says this would be bad for national security, said Jonathan Mayer, a fellow at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation.
“It certainly is a legitimate concern that the company that routes calls is in position to know a fair amount about law enforcement and intelligence investigations,” Mayer said."