Enhancing Privacy Through Transparency: The Case for Transparency-Enhancing Technologies
- Max Jakob Maass –
In todays interconnected world, Privacy is increasingly under threat from the invisible tracking performed by commercial actors. Many users would object to invasive tracking through technologies like device fingerprinting and audio beacons if they were aware that it was taking place. At the same time, the use of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs), like ad- and tracking blockers, requires effort from the end users and thus do not scale for the protection of entire populations. Thus, if this tracking is to be curtailed at scale, it is easier to disincentivize their use at the source, rather than blocking them at the destination.
Tools that provide transparency about the tracking practices of companies can serve this function in two ways. Firstly, they provide awareness to the end users, who can then act to either protect themselves or inform the company that they disagree with their practices. This may force companies to reconsider their practices, as they often cannot afford to ignore complaints raised by a significant part of their customers or users. Secondly, such transparency-enhancing tools may provide a competitive advantage to privacy-aware companies, thus incentivizing privacy-friendly behavior.
In my thesis, I will develop and evaluate such transparency-enhancing tools in a number of different application domains, and investigate both their acceptance by end users and their effect on companies in interdisciplinary cooperations within the RTG. With this, I hope to gain insight into how transparency may be used to facilitate positive changes in the privacy landscape that apply to all users, instead of only protecting those that take active measures like using PETs.