Friday, April 18, 2008

Internet Activities Aren't Anonymous

As I've said before you are not as anonymous online as you think you are. You can be identified accurately with your gender, data of birth, and zip code (derivable from your IP addr). If you hide your gender, it can be derived by your membership in social groups. Akshay assures me the white-paper will be online soon. Similarly, your date of birth can be derived from your social network. Hiding information from your profile is not as effective at protecting your identity as you might think.


avarner said...

It seems obvious that our activities on the internet arent anonymous yet its weird that alot of us (myself included) have to be reminded of this fact.

Sarah Stanger said...

If I belong to social groups that are predominantly male (ie my group of CS major friends, this class's blog) will it accurately predict my gender as female?

Akshay Java said...

Sarah, that is indeed a very good point. I think that the way the algorithm is implemented it would also look at other groups that you are in. It is likely that you belong to many groups and although some might have (an opposite) gender bias -- in aggregate this might still work.

Another profile information that is routinely faked is age -- and the presenter notes that this might be more common among the women in the social network. But since you are likely to connect with others who are in about the same age group as yourself -- such missing/fake private profile information can be guessed.

Also look at the paper in ICWSM What Elements of an Online Social Networking Profile Predict Target-Rater Agreement in Personality? David Evans, Sam Gosling, Anthony Carroll

Median Joe said...

I often imagine whether and how search engines may try to identify users by combinations of their search terms and/or cookies. Combining further evidence such as anonymous wiki posts by IP, or other demographic information might also contribute to de-anonymize individuals.