Quantifying Surveillance in the Networked Age: Node-based Intrusions and Group Privacy

by   Laura Radaelli, et al.

From the "right to be left alone" to the "right to selective disclosure", privacy has long been thought as the control individuals have over the information they share and reveal about themselves. However, in a world that is more connected than ever, the choices of the people we interact with increasingly affect our privacy. This forces us to rethink our definition of privacy. We here formalize and study, as local and global node- and edge-observability, Bloustein's concept of group privacy. We prove edge-observability to be independent of the graph structure, while node-observability depends only on the degree distribution of the graph. We show on synthetic datasets that, for attacks spanning several hops such as those implemented by social networks and current US laws, the presence of hubs increases node-observability while a high clustering coefficient decreases it, at fixed density. We then study the edge-observability of a large real-world mobile phone dataset over a month and show that, even under the restricted two-hops rule, compromising as little as 1 to 46 on average 36% of each person's communications would be locally edge-observable under the same rule. Finally, we use real sensing data to show how people living in cities are vulnerable to distributed node-observability attacks. Using a smartphone app to compromise 1% of the population, an attacker could monitor the location of more than half of London's population. Taken together, our results show that the current individual-centric approach to privacy and data protection does not encompass the realities of modern life. This makes us---as a society---vulnerable to large-scale surveillance attacks which we need to develop protections against.


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