Boosting user privacy online
By creating an innovative, open-source privacy enforcement platform, the EU-funded project OPERANDO aims to give end-users complete control over their own personal data, allowing them to choose what is available to whom, where and when.
Updated on 10 January 2019
User privacy online is a minefield. While the EU has advanced data protection and online privacy rules, many people do not yet understand how to use them to improve their online privacy.
Today, many internet users are still unaware that their data is often passed on by one online service provider to another. This can make them less willing to use online services, whilst also preventing them from securing any monetary value from their data – currently the service provider receives any profit from data sharing.
Meanwhile, service providers must comply with national and European privacy standards and regulations while maintaining a trustworthy image for their users.
To overcome these challenges, the EU-funded project OPERANDO has developed a platform that makes protecting private data much easier.
‘Users need to understand and control how their personal data is being used. There is no existing one-stop solution available on the market to solve this. That is what we are changing,’ says Reynold Greenlaw, project management lead at Oxford Computer Consultants and OPERANDO project coordinator.
Better data control
In an effort to meet both user and service provider needs, OPERANDO researchers have built a user-friendly dashboard called PlusPrivacy. This free privacy management service can be downloaded on to any device and is already available to the public via https://plusprivacy.com.
It does not hold any user data except the account password, email address and privacy preferences.
PlusPrivacy users can choose settings for all their social networks from a single dashboard. For example, if a person does not want to reveal their date of birth on social media, PlusPrivacy will apply that rule to all their accounts. It also provides a ‘single-click privacy’ button that enables users to automatically set their privacy settings to the highest levels across all their social media accounts.
Another feature is a unified extensions and apps dashboard. This allows users to easily review how each of their Chrome browser extensions and web apps are connected to their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. By means of a single click button, a user can disable or uninstall any extensions or apps that infringe on their privacy, without having to explore the account settings in each platform individually.
PlusPrivacy also features an alias email identity service for people who prefer not to reveal their real email address. The user can create up to 20 alternative email identities and delete them accordingly. Emails sent to alternative email addresses are automatically forwarded to a normal email address, while any replies sent by the user go to the original sender without disclosing the user’s real email address.
The service can also block adverts and trackers, unless they are explicitly accepted by the user. In future, it plans to create a ‘privacy-for-benefit’ service which would give consumers the option to consent to trade their private data for economic benefit from an online service.
Local authority benefits
Furthermore, OPERANDO researchers have built a separate privacy enforcement platform (G2C) tailored to the needs of local authorities. This has already been tested for its ability to successfully handle personal data by a UK volunteer-based social service which supports vulnerable adults, by an Italian hospital treating patients with specific dietary needs, and by a service for adults being treated for gambling additions called BetStop. The team has also trialled G2C in a fictional patient database with patients who are registered for fictional surgery.