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Department of Computer Science and Technology

Thursday, 2 July, 2020 - 15:00 to 16:00
Nishanth Sastry

The Web has evolved into a complex ecosystem -- visiting one website may actually involve a large number of other third party domains such as advertisers and analytics companies, which place cookies in our browsers. Many of these third parties are present on several common websites, and are therefore able to track users' visits across websites and gain visibility into their browsing patterns. We have created a browser extension that helps users understand how their privacy may be compromised by third parties. Over 2000 users across the world have deployed this extension, of whom 565 users have shared their data with us. Based on this, we present an analysis of the current state of privacy on the Web in 65 different countries. We find, for example, that Chinese users fare better than users in countries like UK, US and Canada. We also develop a metric called `tangle factor', to quantify the interconnectedness of independent first party websites, and use this to measure and compare the efficacy of different privacy measures (e.g., ad blockers). Finally, we examine the impact of GDPR and find that this does not seem to have had an appreciable impact, perhaps because users are choosing default suggestions for allowed cookies.

Bio: Nishanth Sastry is a Professor of Computer Science at The University of Surrey and a Visiting Researcher at the Alan Turing Institute. Previously, he was a Senior Lecturer at King’s College London, and has spent over six years in the Industry (Cisco Systems, India and IBM Software Group, USA) and in Industrial Research Labs (IBM TJ Watson Research Center), as well as a year in the Computer Science and AI Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds a Bachelor's degree (with distinction) from R.V. College of Engineering, Bangalore University, a Master's degree from The University of Texas, Austin, and a PhD from University of Cambridge, all in Computer Science.

His honours include a Best Paper Award at SIGCOMM Mobile Edge Computing in 2017, a Best Paper Honorable Mention at WWW 2018, a Best Student Paper Award at the Computer Society of India Annual Convention, a Yunus Innovation Challenge Award at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology IDEAS Competition, a Benefactor's Scholarship from St. John's College, Cambridge, a Best Undergraduate Project Award from RV College of Engineering, a Cisco Achievement Program Award and several awards from IBM. He has been granted nine patents in the USA for work done at IBM.

Seminar series: 
Systems Research Group Seminar