A recent security breach on Facebook revealed the personal information of some 50 million users around the world; this and other incidents have induced many people to ask how they can preserve their privacy online.
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires organizations to safeguard personal data and uphold the privacy rights of anyone in EU territory. One initiative designed to ensure compliance with the GDPR is CSI-COP (Citizen Scientists Investigating Cookies and App GDPR Compliance), an EU-funded project of 11 partner countries that encompasses citizen scientists across Europe and the world to investigate online activity.
Do we know what “cookies” (small text files) are embedded in websites and in smartphone apps and what they do with our data? By investigating them, citizen scientists can play a valuable role in ensuring privacy and providing a better understanding of what information is tracked online, facilitating the development of methods to preserve privacy in data collection.
A European consortium, partnered by Bar-Ilan University (BIU) in Ramat Gan (near Tel Aviv) is currently recruiting such caring people to “take a byte” out of online security breaches.
Dr. Maayan Zhitomirsky-Geffet, who oversees the field of ethical data-driven research at BIU’s department of information science and
is the Israeli leader of the consortium, noted that “most of us are unaware of threats to our online privacy and how to prevent invasion of online privacy. This project aims to teach citizens about their online rights and give them practical tools to protect their privacy in cyberspace.”
CSI-COP is now offering a free, online information education course in English (MOOC) at Informal Education (MOOC) – csi-cop to inform and train citizen scientists about their digital rights, and to look beneath websites and apps to uncover hidden trackers and permissions. Entitled “Your Right to Privacy Online,” the course covers topics such as privacy, data, online tracking, rights to data protection and privacy and tools to protect data and privacy. Upon completion of the course, participants may join the CSI-COP transdisciplinary team and engage in the campaign to make the Internet experience privacy-by-default.
Zhitomirsky-Geffet explained that “if a stranger on the street asked us to give him our personal details, including name, address, telephone, what merchandise we recently bought and where we purchased it, where we regularly visit, whom we met over the weekend and more, we wouldn’t even think of providing this information. On the Internet, however, we do provide these and many other details about ourselves and our lives — not only to other users we don’t know but also to various bodies we don’t even know exist.”
How can this be explained? In research literature, the phenomenon is known as “the privacy paradox.” Most of us, she continued, “are unaware of threats to our online privacy and how to prevent invasion of online privacy. The current project aims to raise public awareness and teach citizens about their online rights and give them practical tools to protect their privacy in cyberspace, thus making them champions of privacy and ambassadors who will pass on this information to their families, children, friends, and the general public.”
The CSI-COP consortium is coordinated by Coventry University, UK and, in addition to Israel, includes partners from Greece, Hungary, The Netherlands, Finland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain and Belgium.