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Meet the Leading Players in the Privacy Ecosystem: Cooper Quintin, Staff Technologist, Electronic Frontier Foundation

October 07, 2015

cooper quintin

Over a hundred organizations are responsible for shaping the future of data privacy. In this new series we’ll profile some of the organizations that are helping to shape the massive privacy ecosystem through the eyes of the professionals that work there and learn more about their perspectives on privacy. 

 

What is the role of Privacy Badger in the privacy ecosystem?

Privacy Badger is a browser extension for the Chrome and Firefox that blocks third party trackers which try to spy on your reading habits online. Instead of relying on a blacklist like most other tracker blocking software, Privacy Badger determines what is tracking you as you browse and automatically blocks any new trackers that it sees. Privacy Badger works in conjunction with EFF’s DNT policy–a document that websites can post which contains a promise to not track users who have sent the “Do Not Track” header (which Privacy Badger does.) If a domain has posted the DNT Policy, Privacy Badger will not block it.

 

What key goals/issues is Privacy Badger focused on tackling?

The key goal of Privacy Badger is to bring an end to non-consensual tracking as the primary business model for the web. Through a combination of the DNT Policy and Privacy Badger we would like to encourage content providers and ad tech companies to shift away from a business model that relies on tracking and toward one that protects individuals’ privacy. We can do that by rewarding the companies that protect individual privacy and blocking the ones that don’t.

 

How have EFF’s goals/focus as an organization changed over the years to address evolving technologies or challenges?

EFF has always been a staunch supporter of civil liberties and the right to privacy. Early on, we were a part of the W3C Do Not Track Working Group. We tried to help steer that group in a direction that would result in a strong DNT policy. We felt that the results of that working group were unsatisfactory in that they did not go far enough in protecting the users. We then switched focus to creating our own stronger version of the DNT policy, and the technology–Privacy Badger–to back it up.

 

Looking ahead – what are the most important data privacy issues/concerns you think need to be addressed by the industry and/or government legislation?

I am concerned about the increasing use of collected tracking data for things other than ad targeting. Things such as using tracking data as a factor in determining ones credit, or raising or lowering prices based on demographic data. Another concerning side effect of such pervasive tracking is that tracking cookies are being used by national spy agencies to assist with large-scale warrantless surveillance, identifying individuals and what they are reading based on the tracking cookies that they have.

 

How do you think the Privacy Ecosystem will/needs to evolve over the next 3-5 years to be fit for purpose?

I think that the Privacy Ecosystem will need to continue coming up with ways to disincentivize non-consensual tracking as a business model. We need to shift the dominant business model of the web to one that does not require targeted advertising and massive data collection — one that protects people’s privacy while still ensuring that content creators get paid. The current tracking-based business model is very deceptive to consumers. It tries to hide the fact that tracking is even happening, and when the tracking becomes apparent the tracking industry pretends that there are no privacy ramifications to it. We in the privacy community must work to make web users aware of these decisions.

 

Tell us about your role at the EFF.

As an EFF staff technologist my job is to work on projects that help protect freedom on the Internet, such as Privacy Badger. I also speak about technology issues to lawyers, activists, and journalists and research any new technologies that might have an impact on privacy or civil liberties coming down the line.

 

How did you start working in the privacy field and why do you enjoy it?

I have been programming professionally for the last 9 years, so technology has always been a strong interest of mine. I got excited about protecting civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and privacy, and it just made sense to combine the two interests and use my programming skills to help protect people’s privacy. The first Privacy Project that I worked on was an anonymous online spreadsheet called Ethersheet, and now I work on Privacy Badger at EFF.

 

What do you wish more people knew about privacy?

I wish more people knew the extent to which they are being spied on when they browse the web. I wish that web companies would start protecting their users and realize that there are alternative business models to one which invades their users privacy.

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