The Information Shared Online can be Easily Reproduced

The Internet is a place where people are increasingly sharing information about their lives with friends, relatives, colleagues, and even strangers. While recent technologies like online social networks, location and photo sharing have made it possible for people to create and maintain social relationships online; they also pose significant threats to privacy.

Vassilis Kostakos

Vassilis Kostakos, an assistant professor in the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute at Universidade da Madeira (UMa), explains that “an important threat to privacy is the fact that information we share online can be easily reproduced, is easily searchable, and most often becomes accessible to people we never thought of initially.” Therefore, a challenge for users is to manage their privacy according to their expectations. “Currently systems like Facebook make this challenging because the controls they provide are too complex, and most people just use the default settings,” explains Kostakos.

To empower users to control their privacy, to develop tools to protect users’ privacy, and to develop trustworthy services, a multidisciplinary team lead by Vassilis Kostakos and Norman Sadeh, faculty at Carnegie Mellon, is carrying out the WESP: Weaving Together Technology Innovation with Human and Policy Considerations project, in the scope of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, funded by the Portuguese Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia. “WESP is an innovative project because it combines computer science with psychology and human subjects experiments to understand better people's expectations about privacy, and contrast them with their actual behavior”, explains Vassilis. 

Norman Sadeh 
Norman Sadeh

 World Privacy Survey

Throughout this project, the team has conducted a large number of studies to date. In one experiment with 100 Facebook users, for example, this team found that although people claim to be concerned about privacy, in fact their behavior suggests the opposite. “For instance, we found that although women claim to be much more concerned about privacy than men, their posts are typically much more open and visible to more people than those of men.” Kostakos team also found that people usually underestimate the number of friends they have on Facebook by about 30. In the scope of this project, Kostakos’ team is conducting a global survey on privacy to understand how people from different countries think about privacy. Please take part by visiting: http://worldprivacy.info/

The WESP project is coordinated by a multidisciplinary team lead by Vassilis Kostakos, from UMa, in Portugal and by Norman Sadeh, at Carnegie Mellon University. This project involves three Portuguese universities (Universidade Técnica de Lisboa, Universidade da Madeira, Universidade do Minho), two companies (Sapo/Portugal Telecom and IBM), and Carnegie Mellon University.

Soon we will post more information about this project achievements.

April 2011