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  • Author: Hamza Harkous x
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The Curious Case of the PDF Converter that Likes Mozart: Dissecting and Mitigating the Privacy Risk of Personal Cloud Apps

Abstract

Third party apps that work on top of personal cloud services, such as Google Drive and Drop-box, require access to the user’s data in order to provide some functionality. Through detailed analysis of a hundred popular Google Drive apps from Google’s Chrome store, we discover that the existing permission model is quite often misused: around two-thirds of analyzed apps are over-privileged, i.e., they access more data than is needed for them to function. In this work, we analyze three different permission models that aim to discourage users from installing over-privileged apps. In experiments with 210 real users, we discover that the most successful permission model is our novel ensemble method that we call Far-reaching Insights. Far-reaching Insights inform the users about the data-driven insights that apps can make about them (e.g., their topics of interest, collaboration and activity patterns etc.) Thus, they seek to bridge the gap between what third parties can actually know about users and users’ perception of their privacy leakage. The efficacy of Far-reaching Insights in bridging this gap is demonstrated by our results, as Far-reaching Insights prove to be, on average, twice as effective as the current model in discouraging users from installing over-privileged apps. In an effort to promote general privacy awareness, we deployed PrivySeal, a publicly available privacy-focused app store that uses Far-reaching Insights. Based on the knowledge extracted from data of the store’s users (over 115 gigabytes of Google Drive data from 1440 users with 662 installed apps), we also delineate the ecosystem for 3rd party cloud apps from the standpoint of developers and cloud providers. Finally, we present several general recommendations that can guide other future works in the area of privacy for the cloud. To the best of our knowledge, ours is the first work that tackles the privacy risk posed by 3rd party apps on cloud platforms in such depth.

Open access
The Privacy Policy Landscape After the GDPR

Abstract

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one of the most demanding and comprehensive privacy regulations of all time. A year after it went into effect, we study its impact on the landscape of privacy policies online. We conduct the first longitudinal, in-depth, and at-scale assessment of privacy policies before and after the GDPR. We gauge the complete consumption cycle of these policies, from the first user impressions until the compliance assessment. We create a diverse corpus of two sets of 6,278 unique English-language privacy policies from inside and outside the EU, covering their pre-GDPR and the post-GDPR versions. The results of our tests and analyses suggest that the GDPR has been a catalyst for a major overhaul of the privacy policies inside and outside the EU. This overhaul of the policies, manifesting in extensive textual changes, especially for the EU-based websites, comes at mixed benefits to the users.

While the privacy policies have become considerably longer, our user study with 470 participants on Amazon MTurk indicates a significant improvement in the visual representation of privacy policies from the users’ perspective for the EU websites. We further develop a new workflow for the automated assessment of requirements in privacy policies. Using this workflow, we show that privacy policies cover more data practices and are more consistent with seven compliance requirements post the GDPR. We also assess how transparent the organizations are with their privacy practices by performing specificity analysis. In this analysis, we find evidence for positive changes triggered by the GDPR, with the specificity level improving on average. Still, we find the landscape of privacy policies to be in a transitional phase; many policies still do not meet several key GDPR requirements or their improved coverage comes with reduced specificity.

Open access