Protecting Web Users’ Privacy

MIT News, 3/23/2017

MIT and Stanford University researchers are developing Splinter, an encryption system that hides online database queries. Splinter splits up and encrypts the request for data, sending subparts of the query to different database servers. The user’s computer organizes the returned data to determine the answer. The researchers seek to protect a user’s sensitive information as it travels through the Internet, and in some cases to keep the database systems themselves from knowing who’s searching for what.

New Internet Security Device Launched to Safeguard Schools Against Child Abuse

Plymouth University, 2/20/2017

The University of Plymouth has developed ICAlert, an easy-to-install device that monitors network traffic and sends alerts if users try to access dangerous web content (such as child pornography or terrorist sites). They aim to make browsing safer for children and teens by providing the devices and software to schools at a low cost.

Ultrasound Tracking Could Be Used to Deanonymize Tor Users

Bleeping Computer, 1/3/2017

Cybersecurity researchers recently discovered that ultrasound cross-device tracking (uXDT), in which a web page plays an ultrasound signal that prompts nearby devices to identify themselves via ultrasound, could be effective even when users are using the anonymization proxy Tor. This provides an example of the continual arms race between privacy-enhancing technologies and privacy-invading technologies.

UK Surveillance Law Marks a “Worse Than Scary” Shift

CNET, 11/29/2016

The Investigatory Powers Act, recently passed in the UK, will require telecom companies to store records of phone calls and websites visited for up to a year, and give authorities access to the latter without a warrant. It also legalizes bulk data collection by the British government. Groups like the Open Rights Group and Privacy International are openly critical of this law, calling it draconian.

The Ad-Blocking Browser That Pays the Sites You Visit

Wired, 9/1/2016

The Brave web browser (released earlier this year) allows only ads that don’t track users from site to site; it has now added a feature to record how much time users spend on different sites and allow them to send micropayments to those publishers. The article raises examples of how the web has impacted the economics of media and publishing, and also touches on online tracking, data anonymization and de-anonymization, and even Bitcoin.