Protecting Web Users’ Privacy

Protecting Web Users’ Privacy

Published By: MIT News, 3/23/2017

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MIT and Stanford University researchers are developing Splinter, an encryption system that hides online database queries. Splinter splits up and encrypts the request for data, sending subparts of the query to different database servers. The user’s computer organizes the returned data to determine the answer. The researchers seek to protect a user’s sensitive information as it travels through the Internet, and in some cases to keep the database systems themselves from knowing who’s searching for what.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of Article: 13

Extended Discussion Questions

  • Give some examples of things you’ve searched for in an online database lately. (Products, reviews, schedules, directions, news, entertainment…?) What could someone guess about you from the fact that you made one of those searches?
    • How could the owner of the database make use of that information? Could that use be harmful to you?
    • How could someone else who intercepted the query make use of the information? Could that be harmful to you?
    • Knowing that Splinter makes queries slightly slower, would it be worth it to you to hide the fact that you made that search?
  • Are there any benefits for database owners if people use Splinter to make queries?
  • Under what circumstances would you think it’s a good idea for databases to track who’s making what queries?
    • How might tracking queries help the database owner?
    • How might it help the user for database owners to track queries?
    • How might it help society in general?

Relating This Story to the CSP Curriculum Framework

Global Impact Learning Objectives:

  • LO 7.1.1 Explain how computing innovations affect communication, interaction, and cognition.
  • LO 7.3.1 Analyze the beneficial and harmful effects of computing.

Global Impact Essential Knowledge:

  • EK 7.1.1N The Internet and the Web have changed many areas, including e-commerce, health care, access to information and entertainment, and online learning.
  • EK 7.3.1D Both authenticated and anonymous access to digital information raise legal and ethical concerns.
  •  EK 7.3.1G Privacy and security concerns arise in the development and use of computational systems and artifacts.
  •  EK 7.3.1I Anonymity in online interactions can be enabled through the use of online anonymity software and proxy servers.
  • EK 7.3.1J Technology enables the collection, use, and exploitation of information about, by, and for individuals, groups, and institutions.
  • EK 7.3.1K People can have instant access to vast amounts of information online; accessing this information can enable the collection of both individual and aggregate data that can be used and collected.

Other CSP Big Ideas:

  • Idea 3 Data and Information
  • Idea 6 The Internet

Banner Image:Network Visualization – Violet – Offset Crop“, derivative work by ICSI. New license: CC BY-SA 4.0. Based on “Social Network Analysis Visualization” by Martin Grandjean. Original license: CC BY-SA 3.0.

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