2010-2011

Student Project Cited in New Federal Trade Commission Report on Online Privacy

Completed by Mihajlo Zeljkovic '10 and advised by Craig Wills, professor of computer science, the project demonstrated how third-party tracking sites record our online behavior.

A Major Qualifying Project (MQP) completed by Mihajlo Zeljkovic ’10 and advised by Craig Wills, professor of computer science, is cited in a new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report on online privacy that has been generating considerable media attention. Zeljkovic and Wills are cited in a footnote on page 30 of the report.

The MQP, titled “Tracking Web Users,” reported on a project aimed at helping internet users see firsthand how third-party tracking sites record their online behavior. Zeljkovic and Wills created a website that detects sites that a user’s browser has visited and then shows the user how those habits are tracked for advertising purposes and how the third-party sites use that information to infer information about them.

In addition to the MQP, Wills and Zeljkovic, now a graduate student at WPI, wrote a technical report on the results of the research project. A paper based on the work has been accepted for publication in the journal Information Management and Computer Security.

Wills is an often-cited authority on privacy issues related to social networking, online advertising, online search engines, and mobile computing. He made national headlines with a 2009 paper that found that virtually all popular social networking sites leak their users' personal information to third-party tracking sites. Facebook made changes to its privacy policies earlier this year after the Wall Street Journal reported on the study.

He was an invited participant in a 2009 FTC panel on behavioral advertising held as part of series of public FTC roundtable discussions on the privacy challenges posed by technology and business practices. The roundtables were precursors to the new report.

December 6, 2010