Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Privacy Pirates

Hysterical new site online today from Phorm, a corporation behaving like a small child in a playground calling people names. The people they're calling names include the Open Rights Group, Alexander “The Angry Activist” Hanff and, well, have a look yourself here... phoolish anti-anti-Phorm site.

I don't have time to have the full rant I'd like to have here, but how a company that gathered information about individuals' web activity without getting their permission can call those complaining about it 'privacy pirates' is incomprehensible to me.

There was some research done recently* which showed that you could identify a large number of people from their surfing habits and searches; you don't need their IP address or other standard personally identifiable information, you just need to know that the web sites were visited and searches were performed by one individual. Think about what you search for and where you go online... do they give hints about who you are? I'll put my hand up here and say I Google my own name (both real and online pseudonymns) and look for information about local events and shops and a ton of other stuff that could tell you alot about me. Tie that together with a Facebook or similar profile and you're away...

Anyhow, more reasoned pieces will appear elsewhere I'm sure but in the meantime have some related links...

EC starts legal action over Phorm
Home Office 'colluded with Phorm'
Phorm: Does its stroppy campaign site signal the beginning of the end?
Phorm chief labels critics 'serial agitators'
What the Open Rights Group have to say about Phorm.

* reference will follow when I can find the thing, sorry!**

** Found it. De-anonymizing Social Networks. There's a news report about it at the BBC too.

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Do you mean "De-anonymising Social Networks" at http://33bits.org/2009/03/19/de-anonymizing-social-networks/ by any chance?

The conclusion (http://randomwalker.info/social-networks/Conclusion.html) is the real killer. Here's a couple of snippets:

"We demonstrated feasibility of successful re-identification based solely on the network topology… In reality, anonymized graphs are usually released with at least some attributes in their nodes and edges, making de-anonymization even easier.

Furthermore, any of the thousands of third-party application developers, the dozens of advertising companies, governments who have access to telephone call logs have access to auxiliary information which is much richer than what we used in our experiments. At the same time, an ever growing number of third parties get access to sensitive social-network data in anonymized form.

These two trends appear to be headed for a collision resulting in major privacy breaches, and any potential solution would appear to necessitate a fundamental shift in business models and practices and clearer privacy laws on the subject of Personally Identifiable Information."

Arrr! Emu lad!**

Actually there isn't an eye patch, hook, tin foil hat (which would hide my beautiful blonde hair) or skull & crossbones anywhere here.

** that's a Spike Milligan reference
Many thanks Jamie. I must have been editing as you posted your comment as I'd just managed to find it after a very annoying half hour of Googling!
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