Uncategorized | 1:58 pm | May 14, 2011 | By Tapley Stephenson

Yalie allows privacy to be violated for class project

It’s everyone’s worst nightmare.

What if someone gained complete access your Facebook? Or worse, what if someone gained access to your Facebook, email, and cell phone? And what if they used this technology to find out all your secrets, and then published a report on those cyber-secrets?

One Yalie, known as “Gavin,” agreed to let this happen to him.

“The Gavin Project” was created by six Yale students for lecturer Brad Rosen’s course “Control, Privacy, and Technology.” According to the project’s website, the purpose of the project was to determine the answer to two questions: “What source of personal information reveals the most personal information?” and “Which source of personal information would you least like to reveal to the world?”

For the first question, the team of students found a willing participant, “Gavin,” to give them unlimited access to his Facebook, email, internet search history and cell phone. While the report did not specify if Gavin was in the team’s class, it did confirm that he was a student at Yale. The team’s findings included information on Gavin’s activities, interests, and even his romantic life.

Gavin’s text messages told the team that he had been involved in some unscrupulous activities: he was asked to assist in acquiring alcohol for presumably underage students, although he did not respond to that text. Gavin also mentions to his mother the possibility of finding the TV show “Fringe” online, a violation of copyright law.

He also had contacts for a few very influential people: Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit; Ernesto Zedillo and Eduardo Medina Mora, respectively the former president and attorney general of Mexico; and Elliot Spitzer, former governor of New York (Gawker quipped, “Yalies are obscenely well-connected.”).

Gavin’s email alone provided a surprising amount of information, from his application to Yale to an incident during his freshman year that “caused him trouble.” The team doesn’t specify what this “trouble” was; much of the details of Gavin’s life have been changed in order to protect his anonymity.

For example, the team changed the names of the women whom Gavin had dated. While his email gave some information of his dating history, Gavin’s Facebook provided a list of past relationships, which the report published under changed names.

The report noted that Gavin “is also quite nerdy and is affiliated with some groups that share those tastes.”

The Gavin Project’s second objective was to find out which source of personal information was considered the most secret by the general public. To find their answer, the students surveyed 180 people and asked a series of questions about technology and privacy.

One question asked on which form of communication would a respondent be most likely to discuss illegal activities. The most popular answer was cell phone, with 40 percent.

But, the survey also asked, “which of the following would you least want the US government to have complete access to?” The most popular answer was email, with 59 percent, instead the incriminating cell phone, which only received 12 percent of the vote.

Those looking for unreleased information about the Gavin Project, for proven academic purposes, can contact the team at TheGavinProject@Airizel.net.

[via Forbes]

Comments