Scientists have developed a programme that uses artificial intelligence to decipher a website’s data protection policies in the blink of an eye, and can help you protect your personal information.

The programme developed by researchers, including those from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, can let people know which websites and apps collect and subsequently sell their personal data.

People do not always take the time to read website terms and conditions before accepting them. Not only are they extremely lengthy, they are also convoluted and written in opaque legalese, researchers said. However, they can contain surprising clauses about a website’s or app’s right to use the data it collects, such as the user’s IP address, age and online preferences.

To help consumers get a better grasp of what they are agreeing to, a team of researchers from EPFL, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Michigan in the US created the program to decipher websites’ data protection policies in the blink of an eye. Called Polisis, short for privacy policy analysis, their programme can be used free of charge either as a browser extension (for Chrome of Firefox) or directly on their website.

“Our program uses simple graphs and colour codes to show users exactly how their data could be used,” said Hamza Harkous, a post-doc working at EPFL. “For instance, some websites share geolocation data for marketing purposes, while others may not fully protect information about children.

Such clauses are typically buried deep in their data protection policies,” said Harkous, who led the project. The researchers used artificial intelligence to teach their programme how to pick apart websites’ data protection policies, drawing on over 130,000 that they found online. Once the text of a policy is fed into the programme, the software scours through it in just a few seconds and displays the results in easy-to-read visuals, researchers said.

That lets users to see at a glance which data a website would be authorised to collect and for what purpose, they said. Users can then make an informed decision about whether to use the website, or, in the case of an app, download it. The programme also indicates what options users have for refusing to share certain data and lists the potential disadvantages of each one.

Source: ET Telecom


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