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XRay: New tool to track use of personal data online

Researchers have recently developed a new tool called ‘XRay’, which will help web users to keep a track of the use of their personal data online.

It reveals which data in a web account, such as emails, searches, or viewed products, are being used to target which outputs, such as ads, recommended products, or prices and would help make the online use of personal data more transparent.

Roxana Geambasu said that XRay would be an important first step in exposing how websites use people’s personal data because If would be left unchecked, big data’s exciting potential could become a breeding ground for data abuses, privacy vulnerabilities, and unfair or deceptive business practices.

Determined to provide checks and balances on data abuse, XRay was designed to be the first fine-grained, scalable personal data tracking system for the web. The current system works with Gmail, Amazon, and YouTube. However, its core functions are service-agnostic and easy to instantiate for new services, and they could track data within and across services. The key idea in XRay was to use black-box correlation of data inputs and outputs to detect data use.

The tool could be used to increase user awareness about how their data was being used, as well as provide much needed tools for auditors, such as researchers, journalists, and investigators, to keep that use under scrutiny.

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