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Category Archives: Civil Liberties

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.”

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

The moral footprint of animal products

Agriculture and Human Values Journal of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society. The moral footprint of animal products – Krzysztof Saja. “Most ethical discussions about diet are focused on the justification of specific kinds of products rather than an individual assessment of the moral footprint of eating products of certain animal species. This way ofContinue Reading

The Female Political Career 2015

“A growing global consensus has emerged around the importance of gender equality in political representation. The failure of national legislatures to reflect their populations is a sign of entry barriers, and deprives societies of female political talent. Although some countries employ quotas to hasten representational equality, women still occupy only 20 percent of lower-level parliamentaryContinue Reading

Remembering the liberation of Auschwitz

Google Labs – Explore online exhibitions about the Holocaust. Each of the following exhibitions tells a story relating to this period of mass murder of Jews and people of other races and religions undertaken by the Nazi regime during World War II.

Guardian – WikiLeaks demands answers after Google hands staff emails to US government

Ed Pilkington and Dominic Rushe: “Google took almost three years to disclose to the open information group WikiLeaks that it had handed over emails and other digital data belonging to three of its staffers to the US government, under a secret search warrant issued by a federal judge. WikiLeaks has written to Google’s executive chairman,Continue Reading

Life in the Global Public Domain

Ruggie, John Gerard, Life in the Global Public Domain: Response to Commentaries on the UN Guiding Principles and the Proposed Treaty on Business and Human Rights (January 23, 2015). Available for download at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2554726 ““This paper addresses the foundational logics of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and comments on theContinue Reading

The Public Library: A Photographic Love Letter to Humanity’s Greatest Sanctuary of Knowledge, Freedom, and Democracy

“A library is many things,” E.B. White once wrote in a letter to the children of a little town to inspire them to fall in love with their new library. “But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books… BooksContinue Reading

Reuters Interactive Graph – Journalists killed 1992-2015

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists – Graphic by Matthew Weber/Reuters Graphics – Journalists killed – Click on any person to see more information on the Committee to Protect Journalists website. Users may query by: Name, Position, Gender, Country Killed, Organization worked for; Coverage; Local or foreign; Source of fire; Type of death.

70 Public Interest Groups and Companies Urge Congress to Update Email Privacy Law

“EFF, along with more than sixty civil liberties organizations, public interest groups, and companies sent two letters to the House and Senate leadership today. One supported the upcoming bipartisan Email Privacy Act by Reps. Kevin Yoder and Jared Polis, and the other supported the upcoming Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act by Sens. Mike LeeContinue Reading

France Germany demand removal of extremist web content

WSJ.com: “France and Germany demanded that U.S. tech companies help them police terrorism on the Internet, escalating European efforts to wrangle more law-enforcement help from Silicon Valley. Top law-enforcement officials from the two countries said on Tuesday they expect U.S. Internet and social-networking companies like Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. to pre-emptively removeContinue Reading

Identifying the Culprit: Assessing Eyewitness Identification

“Eyewitnesses play an important role in criminal cases when they can identify culprits. Estimates suggest that tens of thousands of eyewitnesses make identifications in criminal investigations each year. Research on factors that affect the accuracy of eyewitness identification procedures has given us an increasingly clear picture of how identifications are made, and more importantly, anContinue Reading