Data is the new oil is a saying that is increasingly popular. Whilst I can see the logic in it, I dare say most people have a reasonable idea that oil is valuable, and there is a reasonably open trade in it. With data however, no such mechanisms exist. Instead, we largely give our data away for big companies to monetize. In return, we get ‘free’ access to tools and software.
Of course, it’s not just social networks themselves that derive value from the data we freely share. Companies of various shapes and sizes use our public utterances to develop profiles on our views and behaviors. A recent study examined how we can regain a modicum of privacy and protect such harvesting from occurring.
Cloaking our data
The paper focuses on the way inferences about people are made based upon the things they do online, and especially the things they like on Facebook. The authors argue that companies should be much more transparent in the way they use this information so that users can make more informed inferences.
To support this, they propose a ‘cloaking device’ that aims to better inform people of the kind and amount of data they would need to hide in order to prevent companies from inferring significant aspects of their life.
“This is a landmark article,” the authors say. “Given how routinely social media sites violate individual privacy for targeting, it is important for end users to get back some control over the kinds of things that are inferred about them from their surfing behavior. This paper provides a practical model for how users can cloak their identity and avoid certain types of inferences to be drawn about them.”