Ubiquitous connectivity via smartphones and IoT devices has brought many societal and economic benefits, but also substantial risks for individual privacy. Increasingly such platforms are at the heart of a personal data ecosystem and economy and facilitate collection of a variety of types of personal data. As such, there is an urgent need for tools that can provide insight into how this personal data is gathered and used, and that provide users with the ability to control how this information is shared.
This panel focuses on issues that arise form a lack of transparency into the data collected about us and move about the world, and tools that can help users regain visibility into and control over this data. The panel only strategies for detecting leaks, implications for how this data can be used by other parties, and how users can protect themselves from such leaks.
This panel was about DTL’s essence: Developing tools for data transparency, in terms of understanding data from the mobile environment and how it moves around the world through devices. The panelists briefly explained how transparency tools play a role in their job and which tools they use. For example, Ashkan Soltani, independent researcher and technologist, built the app Mobile Scope to automatically detect data flows on mobile platforms. Recon, developed in Northeastern by Dave Choffnes, is a tool that detects what kind of information is being sent to third parties. The panelists stated that tools are crucial in their mission to raise awareness of how privacy is hindered by mobile phones, but nevertheless they cannot solve everything.
Data is believed not to always be as transparent as we would like it to be and sometimes as Kashmir Hill, a senior investigative reporter at Gizmodo, claims, people do not want transparency in what they are interested investigating. For her, it would be nice to have a data tool encyclopedia and a robust database encyclopedia related to technology.
Furthermore, there are several challenges that are going forward for tools such as personalized technologies, the degree in which companies are detecting testing that is happening and consequently, their change of behavior, and the difficulty posed by the data availability in today’s society. Thus, there is a need of creating new tools to assess what data is being given back to users.
All in all, in the future devices will become smarter and we will have less agency and less control over our data. New ways of defeating transparency will appear and therefore, there will be a need to put into place stronger legal protections. Moreover, the expansion of the space in which data is collected will definitely constitute a huge challenge, and the increasing interconnectedness will lead to a more complex system of collecting information as technology brings in more difficult questions about security and privacy.