Barcelona, Wednesday, 4 March 2015.- When a user browses the Internet, they are often not aware that they are leaving behind a whole trail of personal information that can be exploited by companies to customise their products and services. This fact is, at least in part, positive when it comes to finding new products that we may like and sorting our searches, but it also involves risks and threats to user privacy. Users have their information stored in their cookies or from their consumption habits and even the type of devices with which they connect to the network or their location when accessing the Internet by businesses who can alter the information that is reflected in their top results (filter bubble), to re-target the same advert on several pages following them as they surf, modify the prices they are shown or abusively modify their conditions of use.
For example, there are quite a few cases that have become famous in which well-known firms have altered prices depending on whether its customers use Mac or Windows, whether they are connected from Spain or from Argentina, and even whether they had already consulted the price of the same product before or depending on your search profile.
Thus, society has been shaped by a growing concern about the way large companies use the personal data of internet users, a use they consider non-transparent and that is part of a “hidden dialogue” between advertisers and webpages to which the user is not party at any time, and where users are not clearly aware of the balance between the value of their personal data and the services they receive.
Telefónica I+D is one of the founding partners of the Data Transparency Lab, a project by the digital community aimed at revealing the flow and use of personal data online, as well as exploring new ways to promote transparency and accountability in the treatment of this information in the future to make the Web more open. Through this initiative, we also seek to promote the sustainability of the web economy through responsible and transparent use of advertising, e-commerce and online analytics.
The main objectives of the Data Transparency Lab are to develop tools, open up databases to users and support research (by means of scholarships, R&D projects, etc.) in this field. Telefónica I+D is one of the founders of this new institution, alongside the MIT Human Dynamics Lab (headed up by the prestigious Alex “Sandy” Pentland), Mozilla, the Open Data Institute (directed by Sir Tim Berners Lee) and the Centre for the Digital Economy at the University of Surrey.
As a sample of the work being carried out by the Data Transparency Lab, the Telefónica I+D team, in conjunction with the Carlos III University and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, have developed a tool, Sheriff, that identifies changes in the prices charged by online stores according to the IP address from which they are accessed, and with Columbia University (New York) to understand what personal data is responsible for the advertisements that we see.