Privacy-Preserving Social Plugins

Evangelos Markatos, Professor of Computer Science, University of Crete

Monday, April 1, 2013, 3:00pm

Cummings 200

The widespread adoption of social plugins has raised concerns about their implications to user privacy, as they enable social networking services to track a growing part of their members' browsing activity. Existing mitigations in the form of browser extensions can prevent social plugins from tracking user visits, but inevitably disable any kind of content personalization, ruining the user experience. In this work we describe a novel design for privacy-preserving social plugins that decouples the retrieval of user-specific content from the loading of a social plugin. In contrast to existing solutions, this design preserves the functionality of existing social plugins by delivering the same personalized content, while it protects user privacy by avoiding the transmission of user-identifying information. We have implemented our design in SafeButton, an add-on for Firefox that fully supports seven out of the nine social plugins currently provided by Facebook, including the Like button. As privacy-preserving social plugins maintain the functionality of existing social plugins, we envisage that they could be adopted by social networking services themselves for the benefit of their members. To that end, we also present a pure JavaScript design that can be offered transparently as a service without the need to install any browser add-ons.

About the Speaker

Professor Evangelos Markatos received his degree in computer engineering from the University of Patras and his MS and PhD degrees in computer science from the University of Rochester, NY. Since 1992, he collaborates with the Institute of Computer Science of the Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (ICS-FORTH) where he is currently the founder and head of the Distributed Computing Systems Laboratory. He conducts research in several areas including distributed and parallel systems, the World-Wide Web, internet systems and technologies, as well as computer and communication systems security. He has been the project manager of the LOBSTER and NoAH projects, both funded in part by the European Union and focusing on developing novel approaches to network monitoring and network security. He is currently the project manager of the SysSec: the European Network of Excellence in managing threats and vulnerabilities for the future Internet. Since 1992, he has also been affiliated with the Computer Science Department of the University of Crete, where he is currently a full professor.

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