Data Protection Day to be marked at Trinity College Dublin

Events seek to make public more aware of online privacy

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin will stage  events to mark Data Protection Day 2016 on Thursday. Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin will stage events to mark Data Protection Day 2016 on Thursday. Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

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Making the public more aware of their privacy online and how their information is used is the goal of researchers at Trinity College Dublin at events to mark Data Protection Day 2016 on Thursday.

Experts in computer science and encryption will give free workshops to help people learn how to use tools to help them to protect their communications from prying eyes. They will also launch a tool that aims to show people how big their “digital footprint” is and how far their data reaches.

Privacy paradox

People are becoming increasingly aware of how they are tracked through their web browsing and their mobile devices and of how their call and internet history is retained by their service providers and how it can potentially be accessed by State authorities. However, they do not always take action to curtail snooping or potential misuse of their data.

Dr Kevin Koidl, research fellow in computer science and statistics, is one of the researchers behind the so-called Bigfoot Initiative to be launched today.

He said “techies” and people who work in research or media had “no problem” using tools to protect their privacy, but others often did not change their privacy settings even though they knew their data can be used by advertisers and companies that buy their information.

“They don’t change their privacy settings and they still post stuff that they know is a bit too private to post. So convenience usually wins out over privacy. That’s known as the privacy paradox,” he said.

However, Dr Koidl said it was a fine line between “scaring people” and ensuring they knew how to use the tools properly.

He said a major use of personal data that people might not be aware of was the concept of differential pricing. This is when companies offer different prices for products and services online depending on what information they had about the potential buyer.

“Companies are testing all kinds of algorithms which calculate a price just for you, which is a whole new level of [data personalisation] most people are not aware of,” said Dr Koidl.

The best defence against algorithms, specifically in relation to pricing, was to “make sure you spread your data far and wide”.

Details of Thursday’s events are at tcd.ie/info_compliance/news

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