Apr 09 2009

Social networks and revealing anonymous

Category: Information PrivacyDISC @ 3:02 am

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Privacy is a fundamental human right and in US a constitutional right. Advancement in technology are breaking every barrier to our privacy; at this rate individuals will be stripped of their privacy unless we enact policy protections. In this situation we need to define reasonable privacy for a society in general while keeping threats and public safety as a separate issue. Social networks are becoming a repository of sensitive information and usually privacy is anonymize by striping names and addresses. Fake profiles have been created on social network to be anonymous and a user may create multiple profiles with contradictory or fake information.

Arvind Narayanan and Dr. Vitaly Shmatikov from Univ. of Texas at Austin established an algorithm which reversed the anonymous data back into names and addresses.

The algorithm looks at the relationships between all the members of social networks an individual has established. More heavily an anonymous individual is involved in the social media, easier it gets for the algorithm to determine the identity of anonymous individual.

One third of those who are both on Flickr & Twitter can be identified from the completely anonymous Twitter graph, which deduces that anonymity is not enough to keep privacy on social network. The idea of “de-anonym zing” social networks extends beyond Twitter and Flickr. It is equally applicable in other social networks where confidential and medical data can be exposed such as medical records in healthcare.

“If an unethical company were able to de-anonymize the graph using publicly available data, it could engage in abusive marketing aimed at specific individuals. Phishing and spamming also gain from social-network de-anonymization. Using detailed information about the victim gleaned from his or her de-anonymized social-network profile, a phisher or a spammer will be able to craft a highly individualized, believable message”

Now is it reasonable to say that social network wears no clothes?

Personally identifiable information
California Senate Bill 1386 defines “personal information” as follows:
• Social security number.
• Driver’s license number or California Identification Card number.
• Account number, credit or debit card number, in combination with any required security code, access code, or password that would permit access to an individual’s financial account.

Names, addresses, email addresses and telephone numbers do not fall under the scope of SB 1386.

HIPAA Privacy defines “Individually identifiable health information” as follows
1. That identifies the individual; or
2. With respect to which there is a reasonable basis to believe the information can be used to identify the individual.
The term “reasonable basis” leaves the defining line open to interpretation by case law.

Arvind Narayanan and Dr. Vitaly Shmatikov paper.

Social network privacy video


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Tags: Anonymity, Flickr, Personally identifiable information, privacy, Security, Social network, Twitter, Vitaly Shmatikov

One Response to “Social networks and revealing anonymous”

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