Researchers raise awareness about interconnectedness, privacy risks of online services | Eurasia Diary -

21 August, Wednesday

Researchers raise awareness about interconnectedness, privacy risks of online services

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If you are a frequent user of technology, something like this probably happens to you every day: You search the web for articles on the nutrition needs of your new puppy and almost immediately ads from pet food companies start flooding your social accounts and web pages.

Perhaps even more mysteriously, you check the daily news and read an article about the latest science behind obesity, and the next thing you know an offer from a national weight loss company appears in front of you, even though you didn't search, share or otherwise "mark" your experience with that article.

We laugh, feel violated, maybe even get a little indignant and spout off in a social media post, but research shows many of us accept these invasions of privacy in exchange for the convenience of technology. We may even appreciate some of this targeted messaging, like a movie recommendation or the link to a cheaper source for that pair of shoes we want.

Meanwhile, companies are working to amass huge amounts of data about us, pretty much unchecked—at least for now—say researchers at the University of Michigan and Fordham Law School. The researchers, with support from AT&T, hope to help the public better understand the mechanism—so-called Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs—that allows data sharing that leaves us vulnerable to breaches like those recently making news at Facebook and Google.

Thomas Norton, executive director of Fordham Law's Center on Law and Information Policy, and Florian Schaub, assistant professor at the U-M School of Information, will present their report, "APIs and Your Privacy," at the AT&T Policy Forum's Symposium on Application Programming Interfaces and Privacy 1-3 p.m. Feb. 5 in Washington, D.C.

"It seems no day goes by without hearing about a new data breach or unexpected sharing of personal data. APIs play an important role in many of those cases as well as in our digital economy," Schaub said. "Our goal with this report is to help consumers and policymakers understand what APIs are, what APIs companies offer and what the privacy implications of APIs are."

Norton said that in a broader sense, they hope the research "will reveal how vast the data collection business model is and how it's often difficult for consumers to detect when their information is being collected. As has been often said: when it comes to free online services, people are the product. We hope our report helps readers internalize this concept."

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