Researchers Claim Anonymized Web History Not So Anonymous

Researchers from Standford and Princeton University have released a study showing that anonymized web behaviour can still be identified via social media profiles. Google and Facebook for example, are able to track users and know their identities due to users willingly giving them access but the researchers claim that a great number of companies who have access to user browsing histories can identify users through analysis and referencing of their public social media account. “Each person’s browsing history is unique and contains tell-tale signs of their identity,” said Sharad Goel, an assistant professor at Stanford and an author of the study.

With a big enough data, the program was able to identify patterns specific to certain users which reflect their social media behaviour. Having 30 outbound links posted on Twitter for example, the program was able to deduce the corresponding user profile 50% of the time, rendering them de-anonymized. The more user base they had access to, the greater the results were. One experiment involved 374 volunteers who provided web browsing information which resulted in a 70% hit rate of positively identifying their social media profile among the hundreds of millions of public social media feeds.

Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, an assistant professor at Imperial College London, said the research demonstrates how “easy it is to build a full-scale ‘de-anonymizationer’ that needs nothing more than what’s available to anyone who knows how to code.” Furthermore, he states that the approach towards data protection and privacy must be rethought in light of this research.

Ron Perillo

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