Nick Nikiforakis and Long Lu received $500k from NSF to study Cross-application and Cross-platform Tracking of Web Users: Techniques and Countermeasures.
The ability to track users and their online habits is essential to many online businesses, in particular, the advertisement industry. However, when pursued too aggressively, it intrudes on user privacy and even leads to online crimes. Recent research has shown that tracking companies have started using advanced web tracking techniques that are more subtle and less transparent than traditional online tracking. The ever increasing adoption of mobile devices further exacerbates the tracking problem since these mobile devices are saturated with personal information while the details of mobile-specific tracking techniques are largely unknown.
In this project we tackle the problem of unwanted tracking from two complementary angles. First, we systematically investigate the current and upcoming tracking techniques used in traditional and mobile platforms, paying special attention to the under-researched area of stateless tracking. Second, in addition to investigating current and future tracking techniques, we design and develop effective and lightweight anti-tracking systems that go beyond the current state of the art which, unfortunately, mostly consists of browser extensions blocking tracking via the use of manually curated lists of known trackers.
This research presents rich opportunities for societal impact by advancing our understanding of unwanted online tracking, proactively identifying tracking vectors before they are abused, and providing users the tools and knowledge to control the dissemination of their private information.