September 14, 2009

There's No Hiding Online

Through research thanks to a CMU professor and other experts there are more ways of finding online identities through less information, including just a birth date and zip code. Although this is more of a science than art form, I feel it is worthy of a mention here.

From Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Gender, ZIP code, and birth date feel anonymous, but (CMU) Prof. (Latanya) Sweeney was able to identify Governor Weld through them for two reasons. First, each of these facts about an individual (or other kinds of facts we might not usually think of as identifying) independently narrows down the population, so much so that the combination of (gender, ZIP code, birthdate) was unique for about 87% of the U.S. population. If you live in the United States, there's an 87% chance that you don't share all three of these attributes with any other U.S. resident. Second, there may be particular data sources available (Sweeney used a Massachusetts voter registration database) that let people do searches to bootstrap what they know about someone in order to learn more -- including traditional identifiers like name and address. In a very concrete sense, "anonymized" or "merely demographic" information about people may be neither. (And a web site that asks "anonymous" users for seemingly trivial information about themselves may be able to use that information to make a unique profile for an individual, or even look up that individual in other databases.)
Keep reading at Electronic Frontier Foundation...

(Found at BoingBoing, via Electronic Frontier Foundation)

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