Archive for April 2nd, 2009

Statistical Privacy

I just stumbled across an interesting observation by Peter Eckersley, who blogs for the EFF. Apparently, he points out, statistically, you can identify an individual with no more than thirty-three data points. Thirty-three pieces of information… and often quite a bit less. (Obviously, some pieces of information are more useful than others. Billionaires? Lots. Male billionaires? Many. Male billionaires in the IT industry? A half-dozen or so, from what I can tell. Russian-born male billionaires in the IT industry? Probably just one.)

It has interesting privacy implications in an era of surveillance and data-mining. Consider: under some circumstances, just visiting a website, once, can disclose:

What ISP you use, and where you live, down to the city or area level (two data points);
What browser you use, what operating system you use, and possibly what kind of computer hardware you have (three more data points);
What language(s) you speak (one more data point);
What you’re interested in (one further data point);
How you reached that website (one last data point).

That’s eight data points – a quarter of the maximum required to identify you – just from a webserver log.
Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Geekiness, General | on April 2nd, 2009 | Comments Off on Statistical Privacy

In the News: What Curious People!

One of the great joys of the internet is that it allows largely unfettered access to new and thought-provoking information about new and thought-provoking people, places, things, and ideas. Wikipedia is perhaps the simplest, and possibly best, example of the horizon-widening nature of the ‘net: You start out looking up arcane trivia about Star Trek, and pretty soon you’re reading about swinging and sex parties and… you get the idea.

What’s really awkward is that it’s fairly inevitable that at some point you’ll actually find a use for whatever you learn that way, which will inevitably lead to awkward questions – and even more awkward answers – from friends and coworkers. “How come you’re such an expert on The Shocker, then?” “Um, I was browsing Wikipedia looking for information on 19th-century British ships of the line, and, um, yeah…”
Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: General | on April 2nd, 2009 | 1 Comment »