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Author Archives: Sabrina I. Pacifici

Analysis: It’s surprisingly easy to identify individuals from credit-card metadata

MIT News release: “In this week’s issue of the journal Science, MIT researchers report that just four fairly vague pieces of information — the dates and locations of four purchases — are enough to identify 90 percent of the people in a data set recording three months of credit-card transactions by 1.1 million users. When the researchers also considered coarse-grained information about the prices of purchases, just three data points were enough to identify an even larger percentage of people in the data set. That means that someone with copies of just three of your recent receipts — or one receipt, one Instagram photo of you having coffee with friends, and one tweet about the phone you just bought — would have a 94 percent chance of extracting your credit card records from those of a million other people. This is true, the researchers say, even in cases where no one in the data set is identified by name, address, credit card number, or anything else that we typically think of as personal information. The paper comes roughly two years after an earlier analysis of mobile-phone records that yielded very similar results. “If we show it with a couple of data sets, then it’s more likely to be true in general,” says Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, an MIT graduate student in media arts and sciences who is first author on both papers. “Honestly, I could imagine reasons why credit-card metadata would differ or would be equivalent to mobility data.” De Montjoye is joined on the new paper by his advisor, Alex “Sandy” Pentland, the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Science; Vivek Singh, a former postdoc in Pentland’s group who is now an assistant professor at Rutgers University; and Laura Radaelli, a postdoc at Tel Aviv University.”

  • See also Scientific American – Shopping Habits Reveal Personal Details in “Anonymized” Data and the introduction to the special issue of Science – The End of Privacy – “At birth, your data trail began. You were given a name, your height and weight were recorded, and probably a few pictures were taken. A few years later, you were enrolled in day care, you received your first birthday party invitation, and you were recorded in a census. Today, you have a Social Security or national ID number, bank accounts and credit cards, and a smart phone that always knows where you are. Perhaps you post family pictures on Facebook; tweet about politics; and reveal your changing interests, worries, and desires in thousands of Google searches. Sometimes you share data intentionally, with friends, strangers, companies, and governments. But vast amounts of information about you are collected with only perfunctory consent—or none at all. Soon, your entire genome may be sequenced and shared by researchers around the world along with your medical records, flying cameras may hover over your neighborhood, and sophisticated software may recognize your face as you enter a store or an airport. For scientists, the vast amounts of data that people shed every day offer great new opportunities but new dilemmas as well. New computational techniques can identify people or trace their behavior by combining just a few snippets of data. There are ways to protect the private information hidden in big data files, but they limit what scientists can learn; a balance must be struck. Some medical researchers acknowledge that keeping patient data private is becoming almost impossible; instead, they’re testing new ways to gain patients’ trust and collaboration. Meanwhile, how we think and feel about privacy isn’t static. Already, younger people reveal much more about their lives on the Web than older people do, and our preferences about what we want to keep private can change depending on the context, the moment, or how we’re nudged. Privacy as we have known it is ending, and we’re only beginning to fathom the consequences.”

Allianz Risk Barometer 2015: Businesses exposed to increasing number of disruptive scenarios

“Businesses face new challenges from a rise of disruptive scenarios in an increasingly interconnected corporate environment, according to the fourth Allianz Risk Barometer 2015. In addition, traditional industrial risks such as business interruption and supply chain risk (46% of responses), natural catastrophes (30%), and fire and explosion (27%) continue to concern risk experts, heading thisContinue Reading

4 Ways Copyright Law Actually Controls Your Whole Digital Life

By Kate Cox in the Consumerist – January 22, 2015: “The tendrils of copyright law reach worldwide into almost everything we consume, do, and are in the digital era. The rules and regulations about how the internet works, what privacy rights you have, and how the entire digital economy functions all spring from copyright. It’sContinue Reading

The Economic Value of Law Libraries

A Report of the American Association of Law Libraries Economic Value of Law Libraries Special Committee, January 2015 “This report is the result of the AALL Economic Value of Law Libraries Special Committee’s efforts to provide members with the best methods for reporting the law library’s value to its stakeholders. The Special Committee retained HBRContinue Reading

The Largest Cleanup in History – The Plastic Pollution Problem

“The Ocean Cleanup develops technologies to extract, prevent, and intercept plastic pollution. The Ocean Cleanup’s goal is to fuel the world’s fight against oceanic plastic pollution, by initiating the largest cleanup in history…The plastic pollution problem: Millions of tons of plastic have entered the oceans (UNEP 2005) Plastic concentrates in five rotating currents, called gyresContinue Reading

Severe droughts are forcing researchers to rethink how technology can increase the supply of fresh water.

MIT Technology Review – By David Talbot on December 16, 2014 “By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will suffer from water scarcity. Even in drought-stricken California, San Diego stands out. It gets less rain than parched Los Angeles or Fresno. The region has less groundwater than many other parts of the state. And moreContinue Reading

Connecting Health and Care for the Nation A Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT – “This draft Roadmap proposes critical actions that the public and private sector need to take to advance the country towards an interoperable health IT ecosystem over the next 10 years. Achieving such an interoperable system is an essential element towards HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell’s visionContinue Reading

Preparing for Carbon Pricing: Case Studies from Company Experience

Partnership for Market Readiness. 2015. Preparing for Carbon Pricing: Case Studies from Company Experience – Royal Dutch Shell, Rio Tinto, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/21358 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO. “This report covers case studies with three companies: Royal Dutch Shell, Rio Tinto, and Pacific GasContinue Reading

FACT SHEET: President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative

January 30, 2015: “Building on President Obama’s announcement in his State of the Union Address, today the Administration is unveiling details about the Precision Medicine Initiative, a bold new research effort to revolutionize how we improve health and treat disease.  Launched with a $215 million investment in the President’s 2016 Budget, the Precision Medicine InitiativeContinue Reading

Surveying American Attitudes toward Climate Change and Clean Energy

“Resources for the Future has teamed up with Stanford University to conduct an in-depth survey of American perceptions of climate change and energy policies. The most recent poll was released in January 2015 in partnership with The New York Times. The survey asked respondents questions on a range of topics, including: How serious a problemContinue Reading

Libraries After Charlie Hebdo: The Threat of Violence, The Fear of Self-Censorship

Lisa Peet – Library Journal – “Although written texts often evoke strong, sometimes contentious reactions, political cartoons and caricatures can be equally incendiary. According to Barbara Jones, executive director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) of the American Library Association. (ALA), “Cartoons are a particular problem in our office—graphic novels and books with cartoonsContinue Reading

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction 26th Quarterly Report to Congress

Neil Gordon – Investigator, POGO: “This week, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its 26th Quarterly Report to Congress. The last quarter saw great accomplishments in Afghanistan, as well as a disturbing reminder of our government’s obsession with secrecy. The final three months of 2014 marked a milestone in Afghanistan, with NATOContinue Reading