6.805/STS085: Readings on Privacy Implications of Computer Networks

What do web servers know about

This demo illustrates the information that web servers can routinely obtain as soon as a browser references a page on the server.

What kind information is easily available to anyone?

Search for the subscriber name for any US phone number. Enter the phone number (with area code) and press enter.
 Phone num:

If you're willing to pay $25-$100, can easily get a lot more information (e.g., criminal history checks) from companies that do database searches. Here's one example.

Unlike the previous topics this semester, the privacy issue has not really erupted yet, although there have been a few skirmishes, and there has been a tremendous amount of concern expressed. Since there is not (yet?) any clear privacy story to tell, this part of the class readings remains as isolated topics and resources that should prove useful for your final papers.

General resources on privacy and the Internet

Here are two overview articles that are good ways to get started:


Resources on Privacy

Digital payments and electronic cash

One particular area where the internet is bringing privacy concerns to a head revolves around electronic purchases. Records of electronic purchases present opportunities for massive invasions of privacy. Cryptographic techniques make it possible to implement anonymous payment systems that will protect the privacy of buyers and sellers. But, like other uses of cryptography, there's a lot of concern that these systems may protect privacy too well -- leading to the possibility of massive illegal transactions and money-laundering schemes.

Privacy of electronic medical records

Another privacy issue that is generating great concern is access to medical records -- both the insecurity and lax procedures of hospitals and HMOs, but, more troubling, the accumulation of patient information in insurance company data bases.

MIT policies

Hal Abelson (hal@mit.edu)
Mike Fischer (mfischer@mit.edu)
Joanne Costello (joanne@mit.edu)

Last modified: December 3 1997, 9:52 AM