Privacy issues in semantic web applications

While the uptake for semantics technologies continues albeit rather slowly, recent applications have thrown open new challenges, especially with regards to privacy and in this post we look at some interesting use-cases.

SMART HOME: Werner Wilms and his team are developing a home automation middelware where they decouple sensors and actors from the applications using ontologies like the Semantic Sensor Network Ontology and thereby create a model of the facilities. The requirement is that all the sensors and their observations including their adjustments should only be seen and manipulated by the persons which are allowed to do so (e.g. some users may not want to have lights blinking  in their bedroom). Therefore, all participants such as facility owners, energy managers or hkl-installers should have different levels of access to the facilities. To achieve this, Wilms  plan to use a model with roles and rights on one hand and ownership on the other hand to grant or block access on the REST-API level. This pretty much works like OAuth App-Access of Facebook.

WEB OF NEEDS: In the “Web of Needs” project, users are allowed to formulate and publish machine readable ‘needs’ (e.g. ‘I need a hotel room in Paris from 2013/06/01 till 2013/06/09′). These needs are published as linked data. Matching services crawl this subset of linked data and perform matching. Matching needs are sent a ‘hint’ message and their respective owners can connect with each other, currently only via a chat connection, in future versions, negotiation and transaction protocols will be in place. Of course, publishing needs can huge privacy implications, as individual needs should not be traceable back to the owner while at the same time whole set of needs an individual publishes can create a profile that may be exploited in a number of ways.

GEO DATA: When publishing linked data on geographical information, one can soon start to infer lots of things about the conditions of individual people. For instance, what if we publish data about land usage, together with data about who owns what property, which are both public information but together can say a lot about what an individual is doing (e.g. a farmer or a company).

MOBILE APPS:  Many services can take advantage of personal information available in RDF. For this reason we developed tools over Android in order to semantise personal information stored on the phone. However, this is a threat to privacy because it potentially exposes this information. It is thus necessary to define mechanisms allowing the information holder to control the information exposure,  Jérôme Euzenat and his team are exploring the use of semantic web technologies for this purpose. (see project info.)


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