Update: Recent Online Privacy Activity

Posted on November 10, 2011 in Blog, Privacy / Reputation, Social networking | 0 comments

I was on a development death march for the weeks leading into the Internet Identity Workshop #13 (conference notes to be posted soon on the IIW website), but I succeeded and showed the Facebook Privacy Informer App at the conference. The goal of the Privacy Informer App is to analyze the inherent privacy risks associated with a particular website or online service. It then convolves the inherent risk metrics with how the viewer has configured their website and browser privacy settings, and generates a final number that rates your personal privacy risk (see this earlier post for more info on the algorithm). Detail data, and strategies for controlling that risk while still getting value out of the website or service, are also provided as a result of the analysis.

Back in August, when Facebook made major changes in how they present your privacy settings and how they dynamically load their pages, I had to do a major retooling of the screen scraping code in the app. So I created a table driven, asynchronous, sequencing engine in cross-browser compatible JavaScript. I also used Kynetx to trigger the app when the browser loads the Facebook Privacy Settings page. The engine runs from the viewer’s browser, which has some advantages and disadvantages over one that runs as a web service.

To make the basic sequencing engine useful, I added several “filters” and actions that can be included in the sequence table, to scrape the information off of Facebook and send it out to my server for scoring. The weakness of that approach is that I had to put the Facebook page into an iframe.

Those of you familiar with using iframes know that while they’re useful for creating mash-ups, some websites abuse them to steal Google link “mojo” from the organization that actually created the content. For that reason, many websites include code that detects iframes and refuses to render the content. And that’s what Facebook recently did to break my Privacy Informer app again. Other apps that review your Facebook privacy settings, like the Reclaim Privacy app, appear to have been broken by that same change.

Now, I have to create a true browser add-on to do the screen scraping without an iframe. That also means that I have to create an add-on for at least four browsers – Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome. It helps that I only need to put some of the URL detection, context data and sequencing into the add-on, and that I can leave a lot of the code in JavaScript. That should reduce the difficulty inherent in supporting multiple browsers.

I’ll be done with a Facebook and Chrome version of the app soon, and will post it here. My next post will describe how Facebook helped me extend the privacy scoring algorithm to include security and reputation issues. I’ll also list a small sampling of services that provide useful data and tools for understanding your online privacy.

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