PAY­ING FOR PRI­VACY

MIT re­searchers have de­vel­oped a sys­tem that could give you on­line pro­tec­tion, but it’s not go­ing to be a free down­load.

Metro USA (New York) - - Front Page - KRISTIN TOUS­SAINT @kristin­dakota kristin.tous­saint@metro.us

“Data is float­ing around ev­ery­where, so if you have any­thing on the in­ter­net, any­one can learn about it at some point. That’s scary.” Frank Wang

As gov­ern­ment chis­els away at in­ter­net pri­vacy pro­tec­tions, re­searchers at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and Stan­ford Univer­sity have de­vel­oped a sys­tem they say will give you more anonymity in cy­berspace.

The catch: You’ll prob­a­bly have to pay for it.

To start with, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that every sin­gle thing you type on­line gets stored as data, no mat­ter what kind of web pro­tec­tion soft­ware you own.

Sites like Google, Yelp, Kayak and oth­ers trans­late each re­quest into as a query, which gets stored in a data­base cen­ter.

With that in mind, the MIT-led re­search group has de­vel­oped Splin­ter, a sys­tem that cuts the cord on that data flow with­out hav­ing to mask or delete the ac­tual in­for­ma­tion.

Splin­ter al­lows web­sites to en­crypt a user’s in­ter­net searches so they’re never saved. The data is still out there, but is split among mul­ti­ple data­base cen­ters. That scram­bles the search in­for­ma­tion a per­son has en­tered, pre­vent­ing the web­sites from gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion about the per­son who made the re­quest.

“Data is float­ing around ev­ery­where, so if you have any­thing on the in­ter­net, any­one can learn about it at some point. That’s scary,” said Frank Wang, an MIT

grad­u­ate stu­dent who helped de­velop Splin­ter. “Your in­ter­net ser­vice provider is learn­ing about you, so [we said] ‘How can we leak the least amount of in­for­ma­tion?’”

Now, about that catch: In­stead of re­ly­ing on in­ter­net ser­vice providers to look out for your pri­vacy, Splin­ter puts the power of pro­tec-

tion into the hands of web ser­vices. The con­sumer can­not in­stall the soft­ware. It’s a sys­tem each com­pany would have to in­cor­po­rate into their own site.

Be­cause con­sumers are de­mand­ing more pri­vacy in their web brows­ing, they may be will­ing to pay for the priv­i­lege. And com­pa­nies may be will­ing to sat­isfy that de­mand.

With Splin­ter, ser­vices could charge a nom­i­nal fee for queries, like maybe $5 a month. Wang said us­ing Splin­ter costs a web ser­vice less than 2 cents per search.

“Web ser­vices could say, ‘Hey, I charge you to [search for a flight], but I won’t re­lease any of that in­for­ma­tion or use your data,” Wang said.

David O’Brien, a se­nior re­searcher at Har­vard’s Berk­man Cen­ter for In­ter­net & So­ci­ety, said the con­cept could open a win­dow.

“It’s been dis­cussed for years now and could be one al­ter­na­tive path,” he said. The prob­lem, though, is that pay­ment for pri­vacy “hasn’t been sup­ported by de­mand and maybe won’t ever be.”

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