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This page gathers articles, studies and reports on the risks and excesses caused by weak data protection.

Feel free to contribute by adding links to the "discussion" tab above or by directly editing this page. Articles in languages other than English and French go here also.

For documents in French click on "Français" above.

For current press and Quadrature press releases on the matter go to:


Studies on re-identification / de-anonymization

Wired - Security researcher de-anonymises users of French political forums (29 October 2013)

A Swiss security researcher has managed to de-anonymise users of French political forums and blogs by exploiting a vulnerability in a service called Gravatar, which allows people to automatically use the same profile picture on all participating sites when posting anonymously.

Nature - Unique in the Crowd: The privacy bounds of human mobility (25 March 2013)

Apple recently updated its privacy policy to allow sharing the spatio-temporal location of their users with “partners and licensees” [('Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you') ...] [I]t is estimated that a third of the 25B copies of applications available on Apple's App StoreSM access a user's geographic location and that the geo-location of ~50% of all iOS and Android traffic is available to ad networks. All these are fuelling the ubiquity of simply anonymized mobility datasets and are giving room to privacy concerns.

A simply anonymized dataset does not contain name, home address, phone number or other obvious identifier. Yet, if individual's patterns are unique enough, outside information can be used to link the data back to an individual. [...] We study fifteen months of human mobility data for one and a half million individuals and find that human mobility traces are highly unique. In fact, in a dataset where the location of an individual is specified hourly, and with a spatial resolution equal to that given by the carrier's antennas, four spatio-temporal points are enough to uniquely identify 95% of the individuals. [...]

University of Cambridge - Digital records could expose intimate details and personality traits of millions (11 March 2013)

Research shows that intimate personal attributes can be predicted with high levels of accuracy from ‘traces’ left by seemingly innocuous digital behaviour, in this case Facebook Likes. In the study, researchers describe Facebook Likes as a “generic class” of digital record - similar to web search queries and browsing histories - and suggest that such techniques could be used to extract sensitive information for almost anyone regularly online.

Researchers created statistical models able to predict personal details using Facebook Likes alone. Models proved 88% accurate for determining male sexuality, 95% accurate distinguishing African-American from Caucasian American and 85% accurate differentiating Republican from Democrat. Christians and Muslims were correctly classified in 82% of cases, and good prediction accuracy was achieved for relationship status and substance abuse – between 65 and 73%. [...]

The researchers also tested for personality traits including intelligence, emotional stability, openness and extraversion. While such latent traits are far more difficult to gauge, the accuracy of the analysis was striking. Study of the openness trait – the spectrum of those who dislike change to those who welcome it – revealed that observation of Likes alone is roughly as informative as using an individual’s actual personality test score.

Wired - Liking curly fries on Facebook reveals your high IQ (12 March 2013)

What you Like on Facebook could reveal your race, age, IQ, sexuality and other personal data, even if you've set that information to "private". [...] The research shows that although you might choose not to share particular information about yourself it could still be inferred from traces left on social media, such as the TV shows you watch or the music you listen to or the spiders that are afraid of you. [...]

ArsTechnica - 'Anonymized' data really isn’t—and here’s why not (08 September 2009)

This article makes the point that although information is "scrubbed" of all information that could personally identity an individual, this sounds better in theory than in practice. The article states that "87 percent of all Americans could be uniquely identified using only three bits of information: ZIP code, birthdate, and sex. [...]". The article referes to a paper by Ohm on "the surprising failure of anonymization."

"Such results are obviously problematic in a world where Google retains data for years, "anonymizing" it after a certain amount of time but showing reticence to fully delete it. "Reidentification science disrupts the privacy policy landscape by undermining the faith that we have placed in anonymization," Ohm writes. "This is no small faith, for technologists rely on it to justify sharing data indiscriminately and storing data perpetually, all while promising their users (and the world) that they are protecting privacy. Advances in reidentification expose these promises as too often illusory." [...]

Public positions

The New York Times - Letter to the Editor - Protecting our Privacy (4 November 2013)

Short letter to the editor from the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center that sheds worry on the use of cloud computing given the recent revelations of access to data collected by private companies and accessed unlawfully by the NSA.

WorldCrunch - European Academics Launch Petition To Protect Personal Data From "Huge Lobby" (13 March 2013)

This week, more than 90 leading academics across Europe launched a petition to support the European Commission’s draft data protection regulation, reports the EU Observer. The online petition, entitled Data Protection in Europe, says “huge lobby groups are trying to massively influence the regulatory bodies.” The goal of the site is to make sure the European Commission’s law is in line with the latest technologies and that the protection of personal data is guaranteed. [...]

More than 100 Leading European Academics are taking a position (February 2013)

A position paper that puts forth a series of arguments that argue generally in favour of stronger protection for personal data. The document is available in several European languages. The arguments include perspectives on affects on innovation and competitiveness and raises the question of how to correct or best ways to legislate on this topic making reference to legislation currently in front of the European Institutions.

The data industry

Wall Street Journal (blog) and Arstechnica - Facebook Tests Software to Track Your Cursor on Screen (30 October 2013)

The blog on the Wall Street Journal and an article on Arstechnica that links to it ( report that Facebook is developing technology that would allow them to track the movement of your mouse.

The Verge - Judge dismisses suit against Google for bypassing Safari privacy settings (10 October 2013)

A Delaware judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit against Google for secretly storing Safari cookies even when users had opted out. In a ruling from yesterday, Judge Sue Robinson wrote that the plaintiffs — who had filed suit under a variety of privacy and anti-hacking laws — hadn't proved real harm under any of them, nor had they convincingly argued that Google had violated their legal rights.

EU Observer - Hundreds of US companies make false data protection claims (8 October 2013)

Hundreds of US-based companies handling EU citizens' data have lied about belonging to a data protection arrangement known as the Safe Harbour Framework

Christopher Connolly, a director at Galexia, an Australian-based consulting company on internet law and privacy, told the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee on Monday (7 October) that “many claims of Safe Harbour membership are false.”. […]

The Safe Harbour agreement, hammered out in 2000 between the European Commission and the US Department of Commerce, is supposed to ensure that firms follow EU data protection laws when processing the personal data of EU citizens. […] - Data hackers are watching you, Software inside your smartphone can follow you (8 October 2013)

A long article giving a good overview of some of the products on the market that allow anyone who buys them to access your laptop, smart phone etc. The article lists the names of companies involved and the products available.

Mother Jones - Here's How Twitter Can Track You on All of Your Devices (24 September 2013)

This detailed article discusses twitter's recent purchase of MoPub, a company that places advertisements on mobile devices. Twitter, the author argues, would be uniquely placed to help data collectors match the various bits of data they collect about the same person. As twitter is used on many different platforms, they might be in a position to match "the person who just visited on their phone" and the person "who just logged into" on their laptop. Which would of course give much more information to advertisers. The author highlights that twitter has had a good history respecting privacy but that the economics might be too strong.

The New York Times - Attention, Shoppers: Store Is Tracking Your Cell (14 July 2013)

Article on shops tracking customer's movement in the store via cellphones. Interestingly, the article notes, contrary to the willing suspencion of privacy concerns, enough customers, when alerted to this, complained.

Privatics - Paris Metro Tracks and Trackers: Why is the RATP App leaking my private data? (4 July 2013)

Informative and technical article about RATP (the Parisian metro system) app on cell phone sending data that could identify the apps that you run on your phone to third parties.

EU Observer - German data chief attacks credit-profile firms (25 April 2013)

This article, after a quick overview of Germany's legals procedures against Google and Facebook, focuses on data collecting and selling companies. Schufa, which "holds data on 65 million people in Germany", there are other smaller companies that offer services that estimate how likely a person is to default on their debt/pay on time by using their address (aka your neighbourhood) and age. Although there is already legislation limiting some use of data in such a way, there is a loop hole currently being exploited and legislation should be on its way to address it.

CNN Money - What your zip code reveals about you (18 April 2013)

This article echoes the points that are few other articles already made concerning the existence of data brokers (the article makes mention in particular to Acxiom) and how their industry works. The article raises the question of what is considered 'personal' information and mentions the decision in a Massachusets court that Zip codes (Postal code) can/should be considered as personal information. In this state and California retailers can no longer request your zip code for promotional purposes. As a whole the article makes a good overview of issues around personal data and uses simple language to get the ideas across.

RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty - Interview: 'It's Pretty Much Impossible' To Protect Online Privacy (8 April 2013)

From online companies tracking users' digital footprints to the trend for more and more data to be stored on cloud servers, Internet privacy seems like a thing of the past -- if it ever existed at all. RFE/RL correspondent Deana Kjuka recently spoke about these issues with online security analyst Bruce Schneier, author of the book "Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust Society Needs to Survive." [...] "If [you use] Gmail, [then] Google has all of your e-mail. If your files are in Dropbox, if you are using Google Docs, [or] if your calendar is iCal, then Apple has your calendar. So it just makes it harder for us to protect our privacy because our data isn't in our hands anymore." "I don't know about the future, but my guess is that, yes. The big risks are not going to be the illegal risks. They are going to be the legal risks. It's going to be governments. It's going to be corporations. It's going to be those in power using the Internet to stay in power."

SydneyMorningHerald - Facebook 'erodes any idea of privacy' (8 April 2013)

Facebook Home for Android phones has been dubbed by technologists as the death of privacy and the start of a new wave of invasive tracking and advertising. [...] Prominent tech blogger Om Malik wrote that Home “erodes any idea of privacy”. “If you install this, then it is very likely that Facebook is going to be able to track your every move, and every little action,” said Mailk. “This opens the possibility up for further gross erosions of privacy on unsuspecting users, all in the name of profits, under the guise of social connectivity,” he said. [...]

MemeBurn - How much are you worth to Facebook? (4 April 2013)

The argument that hundreds of millions of people give away their personal data on social networks with absolutely no interest in the commercial value of that information does not make sense. It is simply the case that they don’t have the slightest idea. [...] According to Spiekerman: “Even if privacy is an inalienable human right it would be good if people were enabled to manage their personal data as private property.” It’s not only about “monetizing”. The earth is, happily, not that flat. But materializing privacy might help us to overcome the huge issues we have when it comes to the privacy of internet users, and finally social networks and marketing will profit from more knowledge and more trust in the use of personal data.

Computerworld - Judge awards class action status in privacy lawsuit vs. comScore (4 April 2013)

A federal court in Chicago this week granted class action status to a lawsuit accusing comScore, one of the Internet's largest user tracking firms, of secretly collecting and selling Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, passwords and other personal data collected from consumer systems. [...] To collect data, comScore's software modifies computer firewall settings, redirects Internet traffic, and can be upgraded and controlled remotely, the complaint alleged. The suit challenged comScore's assertions that it filtered out personal information from data sold to third parties, and of intercepting data it had no business to access. [...]

GigaOm - Why the collision of big data and privacy will require a new realpolitik (25 March 2013)

People’s movements are highly predictable, researchers say, making it easy to identify most individuals from supposedly anonymized location datasets. As these datasets have valid uses, this is yet another reason why we need better regulation. [...] One of the explicit purposes of Unique in the Crowd was to raise awareness. As the authors put it: “these findings represent fundamental constraints to an individual’s privacy and have important implications for the design of frameworks and institutions dedicated to protect the privacy of individuals.” [...]

The New York Times - Mapping, and Sharing, the Consumer Genome (Article on data broker Acxiom) (16 June 2012)

Long article on the data broker Acxiom, second largest (in size?) after Epsilon. The article describes the history of the company, how it works, what type of data it holds, it's annual profits and how it has dealt with privacy concerns. On the other hand the article also explores privacy concerns of citizens, questions of how well the information is protected, data breaches (not much information on this), encryption of the website, racial and stereotyping of other kinds and that these businesses have little oversight nor regulation.

Data breach

BBC news - 70,000 customers at risk from 'sophisticated criminal attack' (12 November 2013)

"Up to 70,000 people in Ireland who took advantage of a customer loyalty offer could have been victims of a "sophisticated criminal attack"."

Another case where data on customers of one company (in this case a holiday booking company) was stolen but in which the information obtained could jeopardize the security of their bank accounts.

Reuters - Adobe says source code, customer data stolen by hackers (3 October 2013)

Adobe Systems Inc said on Thursday that hackers had stolen source code to some of its most popular software and data about millions of its customers.

Adobe Chief Security Officer Brad Arkin said hackers also took information on 2.9 million Adobe customers, including their names, user identification numbers and encrypted passwords and payment card numbers.

UPDATE: Adobe Breach Impacted At Least 38 Million Users (29 October 2013)

But just this past weekend, posted a huge file called “users.tar.gz” that appears to include more than 150 million username and hashed password pairs taken from Adobe. The 3.8 GB file looks to be the same one Hold Security CTO Alex Holden and I found on the server with the other data stolen from Adobe.

Information is beautiful - World's Biggest Data Breaches (continually updated)

Go to the website for an updated version of this image.

Info is beauty.png

Infosecurity - Ubuntu Forum Hacked; 1.8 Million Accounts Compromised (22 July 2013)

The article gives details of the July 2013 hack of the Ubuntu Linux forum that defaced the forum's website and stole users' account information.

Cambridge News - Massive personal data breach by police to G4S (23 April 2013)

Small town version of the data breach kind. Good example of how insecure the whole system of data is. The Cambridgeshire police released information about their staff to another company that it was in contact with.

Wired - Cloud Computing Snafu Shares Private Data Between Users (4 February 2013)

A low-cost competitor to giants such as RackSpace and Amazon, DigitalOcean sells cheap computing power to web developers who want to get their sites up and running for as little as $5 per month. But it turns out that some of those customers — those who were buying the $40 per month or $80 per month plans, for example — aren’t necessarily getting their data wiped when they cancel their service. And some of that data is viewable to other customers. Kenneth White stumbled across several gigabytes of someone else’s data when he was noodling around on DigitalOcean’s service last week. White, who is chief of biomedical informatics with Social and Scientific Systems, found e-mail addresses, web links, website code and even strings that look like usernames and passwords — things like 1234qwe and 1234567passwd. [...]

NURPA - SNCB Europe data leak involves more than one million customers (23 December 2012)

For several weeks, personal details of more than one million customers of the train company SNCB Europe were available on-line. Although the exact search terms that lead to the original disclosure are unknown, these data were indeed accessible via a simple query in a search engine.

Bits - Yahoo Breach Extends Beyond Yahoo to Gmail, Hotmail, AOL Users (12 July 2012)

Yahoo confirmed Thursday that about 400,000 user names and passwords to Yahoo and other companies were stolen on Wednesday. A group of hackers, known as the D33D Company, posted online the user names and passwords for what appeared to be 453,492 accounts belonging to Yahoo, and also Gmail, AOL, Hotmail, Comcast, MSN, SBC Global, Verizon, BellSouth and users. [...] The hackers wrote a brief footnote to the data dump, which has since been taken offline: “We hope that the parties responsible for managing the security of this subdomain will take this as a wake-up call, and not as a threat.”

The Huffington Post - Yahoo Confirms 450,000 Accounts Breached, Experts Warn Of Collateral Damage (12 July 2012)

Security researchers warned Thursday that thousands of people could be vulnerable to hackers after Yahoo confirmed that about 450,000 usernames and passwords were stolen from one of the company's databases [...] Yahoo Voices contributors signed up using a variety of accounts: about 140,000 Yahoo addresses, more than 100,000 Gmail addresses, more than 55,000 Hotmail addresses and more than 25,000 AOL addresses. [...] A hacker group called D33D claimed responsibility for the disclosure of usernames and passwords belonging to Yahoo Voices' users. "We hope that the parties responsible for managing the security of this subdomain will take this as a wake-up call, and not as a threat," the group said in a statement. [...] Alex Horan, a senior product manager at CORE Security, criticized Yahoo for apparently storing usernames and passwords without encrypting them. "The bigger problem is these passwords were sitting there in the clear," Horan said. He added that encrypting passwords was "Security 101." "That’s mind-blowing that a company wouldn't do that," he said. [...]

Network World - eHarmony data breach lessons: Cracking hashed passwords can be too easy (6 July 2012)

Last month the dating site eHarmony suffered a data breach in which more than 1.5 million eHarmony password hashes were stolen and later dumped online by the hacker gang called Doomsday Preppers. The crypto-based "hashing" process is supposed to conceal stored passwords, but Trustwave's SpiderLabs division says eHarmony could have done this process a lot better because it only took 72 hours to crack about 80% of 1.5 million eHarmony hashed passwords that were dumped.

Cracking the dumped eHarmony passwords wasn't too hard, says Mike Kelly, security analyst at SpiderLabs, which used tools such as oclHashcat and John the Ripper. In fact, he says it was one of the "easiest" challenges he ever faced. There are many reasons why this is so, starting with the fact the cracked passwords may have been "hashed," but they weren't "salted," which he says "would drastically increase the time it would take to crack them." [...]

The New York Times - Lax Security at LinkedIn Is Laid Bare (10 June 2012)

Last week, hackers breached the site and stole more than six million of its customers’ passwords, which had been only lightly encrypted. [...]

What has surprised customers and security experts alike is that a company that collects and profits from vast amounts of data had taken a bare-bones approach to protecting it. The breach highlights a disturbing truth about LinkedIn’s computer security: there isn’t much. Companies with customer data continue to gamble on their own computer security, even as the break-ins increase.

“If they had consulted with anyone that knows anything about password security, this would not have happened,” said Paul Kocher, president of Cryptography Research, a San Francisco computer security firm. [...]

LinkedIn does not have a chief security officer whose sole job it is to monitor for breaches. The company says David Henke, its senior vice president for operations, oversees security in addition to other roles, but Mr. Henke declined to speak for this article. [...]

The Register - 35m Google Profiles dumped into private database (25 May 2011)

In order to demonstrate that online information is trivial to mine, a Phd student from the University of Amsterdam in one month dumped the names, email addresses and biographical information of 35 million google profiles into a database. This was a experiment to test how difficult it would be to do and the answer was, not hard at all. The article does into some technical detail explaining why and how Google profiles in particular were vulnerable.

The New York Times - After Breach, Companies Warn of E-Mail Fraud (Epsilon breach) (04 April 2013)

Similar article by the WTJ with a slightly more business angle on it: and for a list of companies that had used Epsilon and had their email lists stolen:

Articles describing a breach of Epsilon, an online marketing form (data broker) that handles email marketing for big firms such as JP Morgan Chase, Target, ... had been hacked and unencrypted email addresses had been stolen. In some cases names of the email addresses also which makes "spear phishing" a lot more effective as the phishing attack knows you have an account with company X, uses your name, perhaps even your address, making it much more likely that you will assume the email to be legitimate.

Wikipedia Article - Data breach: Major incidents

Wikipedia Fr - Piratage du PlayStation Network

Surveillance (different ways that data is collected), the state and legislation addressing data collection

BBC News - Tesco petrol stations use face-scan tech to target ads (4 November 2013)

At Tesco petrol stations in the UK, faces of customers will be scanned in order to target advertisement. The company says that customers will be asked to opt in but privacy concerns are being raised.

The New York Times - Europe Aims to Regulate the Cloud - (6 October 2013)

This article focuses mostly on the affects that proposals to the new EU regulation on data protection might have on cloud computing. It raises pertinent question such as what the consequences will be for EU companies with subsidiaries in the US and vice versa. Although the link makes an explicit link with Snowden's revelations, it is unclear to what extent the writer sees the new regulation as addressing concerns of data collection in the name of national security (which it is meant to not address) vs. data collection by private firms.

Bloomberg - U.K. Seeks to Block EU Data-Protection Plans That ‘Burden’ Firms (27 September 2013)

This article represents the point of view taken by some businesses, namely Google and Facebook, that argue that the new European legislation proposed by the European Commission and which is making its way through the European Parliament, would harm businesses by raising their costs.

The Guardian Newspaper Britain accused of trying to impede EU data protection law (27 September 2013)

Article dealing pretty much with the same argument but focusing instead on the interests of spy agencies to prevent too much data protection. The article also mentions 'safe harbour' which had been an agreement between the EU and the USA and which, after the Snowden leaks, has come under renewed scrutiny.

The Washington Post - NSA collects millions of e-mail address books globally (15 October 2013)

The National Security Agency is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans, according to senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. […]

During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation. […]

[…] the agency captures contact lists “on the fly” as they cross major Internet switches […]

The Wall Street Journal - French Privacy Agency Moves to Sanction Google (27 September 2013)

An article about the recent legal procedure initiated against Google Inc. by the French organisation Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés, or CNIL, ( The action focuses on the lack of transparency in Google's use of data collected. The article states that Google had introduced changes to its privacy data regulations in order to make its different products more compatible and as advertisers are increasingly turning away from other forms of advertising (e.g. TV ads), this data is becoming more valuable. The article overviews other European procedures against Google. See also NYTimes article 22 April 2013 below for similar developments in Germany.

Computer World - Google knows nearly every Wi-Fi password in the world (12 September 2013)

A short article reports that given the default setting on most of the millions of Android phones in the world, google is now probably in possession of very many of the world's wifi passwords. The default setting is to "back up your data" which means that quite a bit of personal information stored on your phone, including wifi passwords, is backed up with google. Given that the passwords are not well encrypted, and surely google is well able to decrypt them, this means that google has potentially access to very very many millions of wifi passwords. The article also lists several other articles that deal with the same issue.

New York Times - Germany Fines Google Over Data Collection (22 April 2013)

An article that starts with the 145 000 Euro fine Google received from a German court with regard to illegally collecting personal data during it's street view recording. It then does a quick overview of reactions by other countries to the disclosure that street view collected personal data. The article then considers approaches by other west European countries on the matter and efforts by the European institutions to introduce European legislation on the issue which would, amongst other things, raise the amount by which fines could in the future be levied on organizations.

Harvard Law Review: The Dangers of Surveillance (2012)

"From the Fourth Amendment to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and from the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to films like Minority Report and The Lives of Others, our law and literature are full of warnings about state scrutiny of our lives. These warnings are commonplace, but they are rarely very specific. Other than the vague threat of an Orwellian dystopia, as a society we don’t really know why surveillance is bad, and why we should be wary of it. To the extent the answer has something to do with “privacy,” we lack an understanding of what “privacy” means in this context, and why it matters. We’ve been able to live with this state of affairs largely because the threat of constant surveillance has been relegated to the realms of science fiction and failed totalitarian states."

ZDNET : China's new data protection rules good step, but little bite (September 27, 2013)

Summary (quoted from website): "China has introduced rules to regulate the collection and use of personal data by its internet and telecoms operators. The rules have been a long time coming, but do they actually offer anything to users?"

Effects of loss of privacy on employment and credit worthiness

Ars Technica - Denied for that loan? Soon you may thank online data collection (11 October 2013)

Article based on a presentation given by Kate Crawford, a principal at Microsoft Research, at MIT’s EmTech conference. It visits two main points. Firstly, what data can be used for with regard to discrimination against persons on the base of what is known of them through online gathered data (e.g. loan decisions). Secondly, it considers the weakness of anonymization.

On Device Research - Facebook costing 16-34s jobs in tough economic climate (29 May 2013)

The index which covers 6000 16-34 year olds across six countries revealed some surprising results [: ] If getting a job was not hard enough in this tough economic climate, one in ten young people have been rejected for a job because of their social media profile.

CNN - Facebook friends could change your credit score (27 August 2013)

An article on the uses by financial companies of 'personal' data collected from Facebook, eBay... or even how you fill in an online application form. Amongst other the argument is made by representatives of these companies that this data is reliable enough, especially when taken as a whole, to have good enough idea of a person's creditworthiness.

General studies

TED talks - The internet, the perfect tool for the surveillance state? Further reading (and watching) on the state of digital privacy (7 November 2013)

A list of three talks that attempt to summarise issues surrounding digital privacy. By Mikko Hypponen, Bruce Schneier and Alessandro Acquisti.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) - Who has your back? (continuously updated)

This website lists the largest online companies and how their reported attitude with regard to privacy. For instance it awards stars for companies that attempted to defend against data requests by spy agencies.

MIT Technological Review - The real privacy problem (22 October 2013)

A detailed and long article analysing questions surrounding the privacy debate. A lot of good links to other articles, books and other sources as well as historical context to the debate on the interplay between privacy and democracy.

"So if you want to defend the “right to privacy” for its own sake, turning data into a tradable asset could resolve your misgivings. The NSA would still get what it wanted; but if you’re worried that our private information has become too liquid and that we’ve lost control over its movements, a smart business model, coupled with a strong digital-rights­-management regime, could fix that."

Boston College Law Review - Big Data and Due Process: Toward a Framework to Redress Predictive Privacy Harms (13 September 2013)

The rise of “big data” analytics in the private sector poses new challenges for privacy advocates. Unlike previous computational models that exploit personally identifiable information (PII) directly, such as behavioral targeting, big data has exploded the definition of PII to make many more sources of data personally identifiable. By analyzing primarily metadata, such as a set of predictive or aggregated findings without displaying or distributing the originating data, big data approaches often operate outside of current privacy protections (Rubinstein 2013; Tene and Polonetsky 2012), effectively marginalizing regulatory schema. Big data presents substantial privacy concerns – risks of bias or discrimination based on the inappropriate generation of personal data – a risk we call “predictive privacy harm.” Predictive analysis and categorization can pose a genuine threat to individuals, especially when it is performed without their knowledge or consent. While not necessarily a harm that falls within the conventional “invasion of privacy” boundaries, such harms still center on an individual’s relationship with data about her. Big data approaches need not rely on having a person’s PII directly: a combination of techniques from social network analysis, interpreting online behaviors and predictive modeling can create a detailed, intimate picture with a high degree of accuracy. Furthermore, harms can still result when such techniques are done poorly, rendering an inaccurate picture that nonetheless is used to impact on a person’s life and livelihood.

The Boston Consulting Group - The Value of Our Digital Identity (20 November 2012)

The Value of Our Digital Identity, a new report by The Boston Consulting Group in the Liberty Global Policy Series, takes a unique approach to understanding this new phenomenon. It quantifies, for the first time, the current and potential economic value of digital identity. It also explores—through research involving more than 3,000 individuals—the value that consumers place on their personal information and how they make decisions about whether or not to share it. Building on these findings, the report presents a new paradigm for unlocking the full value of digital identity in a sustainable, consumer-centered way. [...]

The report shows that the value created through digital identity can indeed be massive: €1 trillion in Europe by 2020 [...]

Individuals with a higher than average awareness of how their data are used require 26 percent more benefit in return for sharing their data. Meanwhile, consumers who are able to manage their privacy are up to 52 percent more willing to share information than those who aren’t. [...]

Given proper privacy controls and sufficient benefits, the survey found, most consumers are willing to share their personal data. To ensure that the flow of personal information continues, organizations therefore need to make the benefits clear to consumers. They also need to embrace responsibility, transparency, and user control. [...]

The Cost of Reading Privacy Policies. I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society 2008 Privacy Year in Review issue. (with A. McDonald) Download:

It would take each American 244 hours per year to read privacy policies… cf. page 18. About 40 minutes every day.


The New York Times - Letting Down Our Guard With Web Privacy (Psychology of divulging private information on the net) (30 March 2013)

Article considering the psychological reasons why we surrender more private information on the net than we would in real life.

The New Yorker - The Prism (24 June 2013)

Article that considers the history of society's understanding of privacy. It draws parallels with the 1844 scandal around the London government's opening of letters by an Italian resident. It also contrasts terms privacy with advertising, arguing that the two tendencies, contradictory, appear to be very strong in current US American society.

EuropaQuotidiano - Facebook, i Big Data e la fine della privacy

Euobserver - Academics line up to defend EU data protection law