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Category Archives: Privacy

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.”

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

Privacy Board Renews Call for President Obama to End Bulk Collection

EPIC – “The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board released a report on prior recommendations regarding the NSA’s domestic and global surveillance programs. The Board stated that the Obama Administration has failed to end the domestic telephone collection program. The Board stated, “the Administration can end the bulk telephone records program at any time, withoutContinue Reading

Hearing Before the Senate On Protecting America from Cyber Attacks: The Importance of Information Sharing

CDT – “Greg Nojeim’s testimony for the January 28th hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Protecting America from Cyber Attacks. He will explain how Congress can embrace cybersecurity information sharing policies with appropriate authorities and safeguards that enhance both privacy and security, first describing the cybersecurity threat then identifying different approachesContinue Reading

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

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

Second Annual Report on How Personal Technology is Changing our Lives

“Microsoft’s second annual survey of Internet users around the world, released here in advance of the World Economic Forum that is taking place this week in Davos, Switzerland, shows that fifteen years into the 21st century, Internet users still think overwhelmingly that personal technology is making the world better and more vital. Large majorities ofContinue Reading

The Digital Arms Race: NSA Preps America for Future Battle

Spiegel Online – The NSA’s mass surveillance is just the beginning. Documents from Edward Snowden show that the intelligence agency is arming America for future digital wars — a struggle for control of the Internet that is already well underway, by Jacob Appelbaum, Aaron Gibson, Claudio Guarnieri, Andy Müller-Maguhn, Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach, Leif Ryge,Continue Reading

Ad Network Turn Will Suspend Zombie Cookie Program. When Will Verizon?

Via EFF – “Advertising network Turn announced today that they will suspend their zombie tracking cookie program. Turn was recently caught using Verizon Wireless’ invasive UIDH header to undelete tracking cookies that web visitors had previously deleted. This unacceptable practice means that users who delete cookies to avoid Turn’s and others’ tracking will continue toContinue Reading

National Academy of Sciences Releases Report – Bulk Collection of Signals Intelligence

James R. Clapper – Director of National Intelligence” “On January 17, 2014, the President, through Presidential Policy Directive 28, directed my office to assess “the feasibility of creating software that would allow the Intelligence Community more easily to conduct targeted information acquisition rather than bulk collection.” In order to fulfill this direction, I asked the National AcademyContinue Reading

CIA Releases Redacted Report on Surveillance of Congress

“Several months after EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency, the agency has released the Inspector General’s report on the agency’s surveillance of Congress. The Inspector General launched an investigation after the Senate accused the CIA of improperly accessing the computers of Senate staff who were investigating CIA tortureContinue Reading

Review of the FBI’s Activities Under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008

A Review of the FBI’s Activities Under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, September 2012 (January 9, 2015 version) — Executive Summary | Full Report/Redacted