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Lunch Hour Lecture: Protecting users’ privacy in modern web applications

Kilian Thayaparan18 February 2015

Cyber security robot“This thing will never take off,” Professor Brad Karp (UCL Computer Science) jokingly recalls himself saying about the World Wide Web when the concept was first introduced to him in the 1990s. Yet since its introduction, when websites were simply static documents, it has gone on to be of incredible value to people across the globe.

The evolution of the World Wide Web has led to an increasing focus on web applications, or ‘apps’, and with this has come a problematic conflict between privacy and functionality. It is this conflict that formed the basis of Professor Karp’s Lunch Hour Lecture, as he put forward a solution to end this “unpalatable trade-off”.

According to Professor Karp, the issue has arisen as a result of the Web’s original architecture; designers were thinking about privacy when building the Web, but this same approach has restricted the creation of web applications. To get around such restrictions, developers need to work outside of this architecture and subsequently compromise on privacy.

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Freedom of the press vs. privacy rights

Ruth Howells17 February 2012

The focus of the seventh UCL Laws/Bindmans debate, held on 8 February, would have struggled to be more topical against the backdrop of the ongoing Leveson Inquiry.

The Inquiry was set up to look at the practices and ethics of the press in the wake of Summer 2011’s phone-hacking scandal, which sent shockwaves through the UK media – the full repercussions of which are yet to play out.

The panel convened by UCL Laws and the law firm Bindmans to debate privacy and the media would have struggled to have a greater level of combined insight into the topic.

Media heavyweights

Tessa Jowell, Labour MP and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, joined Martin Moore, Director of the Media Standards Trust, and Gill Phillips, Director of Editorial Legal Services at the Guardian. The fourth panel member was Max Mosley, former motorsport figure and focus of one of the most famous recent examples of a media-driven sex life exposé.

An audience of lawyers, law students and journalists gathered to hear what the panel had to say about the issues surrounding self or statutory regulation of the press, how the current system might be reformed and whether regulation is possible or desirable.

We’ve been here before

Lord Justice Leveson is not the first to have looked in detail at these issues. In the early 90s, the Calcuttt committee grappled with the topic, with David Mellor saying at the time that the press were “drinking in the last chance saloon.”

Some might say that they’re still there, steadfastly propping up the bar – resistant to any change and knowing that parliament will be unwilling to legislate when they risk association with oppressive regimes – especially when they have themselves been in the pockets of the media barons.

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How to do public engagement on energy and privacy

ucft5098 June 2011

I forgot to pack my socks. Given that this is Cheltenham Science Festival, as I walked to the sock shop I envisioned a long queue of professors and graduate students who had also forgotten to pack their socks. Alas, I was the sole. The scientists at this festival are far too cool for that. Directed by UCL’s own Mark Lythgoe, who appears to be the height of cool, the aim of this festival is to get current science, and its associated issues, out into the public sphere.

An event worth highlighting for its excellent quality is ‘Energy – the smart way?’. In essence, it was an introduction to the need for, possible design of and social implications of ‘smart grids’ and ‘smart meters’ to monitor and control our energy use. Former UCL PhD student Tony Rooke, now working a short walk along Euston Road at Logica, was one of the three panelists.  All agreed that the ‘smart grid’, broadly meaning a grid in which there is multi-directional information and power flow, is absolutely essential if we are to meet our carbon targets, but it was pointed out that rolling out smart meters without knowing the architecture of the smart grid is possibly a mistake.

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