Databases and Privacy

Researchers look for ways to safeguard privacy.

If you've used Google Maps to get directions or looked up information about a medical condition on WebMD, there's a good likelihood that your search query is in that site's database. Now, think about all the different things you search for, whether it's via a search engine or simply on a website, and imagine how much that accumulated data might reveal about you.

Researchers at MIT and Stanford University had the same thought and as a result, they created a new encryption system called Splinter to disguise your database queries and prevent them from revealing your private information. Science Daily reports that the researchers presented the new system at the USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation. The system works by breaking up data queries and distributing them across multiple servers. The "splintered" queries are later recombined using a process known only to the user.

 Supporting Web Links

Discussion Topics/Activities

  1. This article is a great opportunity to help students see the relationship between their use of apps and other web tools and the ways these tools may be using their personal data. Ask students to share a list of the apps they currently use and consider going to the sites to see what their privacy policies are. Were students aware of these policies? Will knowing about these policies change anything for students?
  2. Divide the class into two groups to debate the pros and cons of data privacy. Allow each group sufficient time to research their position prior to the debate.
  3. As an individual project, ask students to visit the Supporting Web Links section to read the Lifehacker article, “Data Selfie Analyzes Your Facebook Usage to Show What Companies Can Learn About You.” Interested students may want to install the Data Selfie Chrome extension and use this for several days to generate data about their Facebook usage. Ask students to write a brief report summarizing their findings, or if appropriate, create a presentation to share with the class.

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