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This page includes the program and the resources for a two lesson module on digital (or Internet) privacy.

Massive use of ICT in business and private life has led to personally identifiable information (PII), i.e. information that can be used to uniquely identify, contact, or locate a single person or can be used with other sources to uniquely identify a single individual (Wikipedia). In addition, the use of social software and in particular social networking applications like Facebook allows to draw quite extensive digital profiles of many people. This situation requires - at least in principle - that persons adopt some kind of strategy to manage this information (Jones, 2008). In addition, there should be appropriate legal frameworks to protect the citizens.


A look at tracking

Let's see how you are tracked on the web

For starters, let's look at the simple footprint of your browser.

Two interesting extensions for the Firefox web browser allow understanding some of the tracking

  1. Launch the Firefox web browser (recent version required !)
  2. Install the Lightbeam and Ghostery navigator extensions by clicking on the links below
    • Lightbeam is a Firefox extension that will tell you who is spying on you. When you start it, it will track and visualize all third party websites that interact with your page and your browser.
    • Ghostery (home page) is another Firefox/Chrome browser plugin that sees the invisible web - tags, web bugs, pixels and beacons. Introduction (tutorial)
  3. Then interact with two tools, (use the icons top right)
    1. Go to your facebook page
    2. Search something in google
    3. Open

Notice: Such web browser plugins cannot track every tracking ! E.g. they will not show in which ways you are tracked on a facebook page.

What do search engines know about you ?

If you do have a Google account (Gmail), see what Google knows about you and how you set your privacy settings:

Have a look at:

Engines like google web analytics do not provide individual data to customers since it is (a) not needed for advertising and (b) not allowed in some countries. However, one still can know quite a lot about a cohort of users

What does your teacher know about you ?

Worldclassroom demo:

  • People -> Select a person -> Access report or Analytics

Other forms of tracking

Email tracking (less known)

  • An email may include customized pictures or just a little pixel image that will uniquely identify you. E.g. employers can know whether you did open an email (not very harmful) or forwarded and email (harmful)
  • E-mail tracing (Wikipedia article)

Data can be aggregated from various resources and then sold

Such information must be paid, freely available information is not very interesting.

  • In Europe, most services (e.g. 123people or Intelius, Spokeo) are now disabled. However, online private investigation services do exist.
  • Few people aggregation services like the following ones offer some data:, (international), (USA only)

Predictive modeling

  • Statistical "big data" models allow inferring things about you.

Try this! Predicting personality traits and behavior from text and Facebook 'likes'

    • If your are a Facebook and or Twitter user, try ! (Notice: As of Summer 2018, the FaceBook component is down, as of Sept. 2018 the Twitter interface did work).

Facebook "likes" allow inferring political orientation, sexual preferences and more. Also read Michal Kosinski's ending notes about the related project. Basically, both documents show that Kosinki et al. are ahead of Cambridge Analytica and its most well known data scientist, Alksandr Kogan. They were warning about various dangers to privacy well before the "Facebook" Scandal in spring 2018.

What do you know about the legal aspects of privacy issues ?

Most people don't seem to informed about the situation. See for yourself:

Santa Clara University quiz

Online Privacy Questions concerning US law (Hoofnagle et al., 2014, p. 17)
1. If a website has a privacy policy, it means that the site cannot share information about you with other companies, unless you give the website your permission.
True / False
2. If a website has a privacy policy, it means that the site cannot give your address and purchase history to the government
True / False
3. If a website has a privacy policy, it means that the website must delete information it has about you, such as name and address, if you request them to do so.
True / False
4. If a website violates its privacy policy, it means that you have the right to sue the website for violating it.
True / False
5. If a company wants to follow your internet use across multiple sites on the internet, it must first obtain your permission.
True / False
Offline Privacy Questions
6. When you subscribe to a newspaper or magazine by mail or phone, the publisher is not allowed to sell your address and phone number to other companies without your permission.
True / False
7. When you order a pizza by phone for home delivery, the pizza company is not allowed to sell your address and phone number to other companies without your permission.
True / False
8. When you enter a sweepstakes contest, the sweepstakes company is not allowed to sell your address or phone number to other companies without your permission.
True / False
9. When you give your phone number to a store cashier, the store is not allowed to sell your address or phone number to other companies without your permission.
True / False

Other privacy quizzes

Each student should take one and write down 1-2 surprising things.

Presentation of 1 or 2 cases


  • Why does privacy matter ?


Major data projection laws in Switzerland, The UK, the EU and the US

  • None (USA). However there are other laws that partially address the issue, plus "case law" derived from other acts, plus local regulations.

Summaries, including information from government agencies

Protection strategies

What can a user do ?


  • Use "private browsing features" when searching for sensitive data
  • Use ad blocking software if you want more privacy
  • Erase cookies when closing the browser (you can change that in the browser settings).
  • Erase/inhibit Flash cookies and more recent JavaScript/HTML5 based tricks.
  • Log out of Google, Yahoo etc. when you conduct search
  • Customize privacy settings, e.g. in Google, examine options in or directly do the privacy checkup
  • Use proxies or specialized safe browsers like Tor

Email tracking

  • Disable pictures

Social networks

  • Never post sensitive data, anywhere.
  • Think, before you post anything publicly (or privately).
  • Remove sensitive data, then ask search engines to remove old information, e.g. using Google's remove tool. Changes must be made "at the source". (How to delete yourself from the Internet, by Seth Rosenblatt, April 2012, C|Net.
  • If online data about you violates laws, you can try to act. (e.g. Google's Legal Removal Requests). However, it will not be easy ...
  • Develop your Internet strategy, i.e. plan ahead.
  • Use a privacy check application.


Further (optional) Reading

Classes (recent past)