December 13, 2010

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Craig Wills, professor of computer science at WPI and a noted authority on privacy concerns that revolve around web browsing, use of social networking sites, and mobile social networking, recently discussed this expertise on National Public Radio's Science Friday program and on the front page of USA Today.

On Dec. 17, Wills appeared on Science Friday with host Ira Flatow to discuss Internet privacy and the Federal Trade Commission's recent proposal to establish a "do not track" mechanism that would let consumers avoid having their web-browsing habits tracked by third-party sites. Ed Felten, professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University and soon-to-be chief technologist at the FTC, was the other guest for the half-hour segment.

Wills discussed research that he and Balachander Krishnamurthy of AT&T Research Labs have conducted on how third-party advertising companies track users as they visit web sites and build profiles about their browsing habits. In 2009, they made national headlines with a paper that found that virtually all popular social networking sites leak their users' personal information to third-party tracking sites, making it possible for these sites to connect what had previously been anonymous browsing profiles with users’ actual identities. Facebook made changes to its privacy policies earlier this year after the Wall Street Journal reported on the study.

On Dec. 13, Wills was prominently quoted in a front-page story in USA Today on the FTC's do-not-track proposal. Wills was an invited participant in a 2009 FTC panel on behavioral advertising held as part of series of public roundtable discussions on the privacy challenges posed by technology and business practices. The roundtables were precursors to a recent FTC report that included the “do not track” proposal. The report cites a Major Qualifying Project (MQP) titled "Tracking Web Users" completed by Mihajlo Zeljkovic '10 and advised by Wills.