The New York Times Bits Blog featured a long piece by Steve Lohr on XRay, “a reverse-engineering machine that models the correlations made by web services.” As you browse the web, shop online or contact friends via SMS or email, companies collect and share information, making inferences about you to target their services. XRay exposes those inferences. According to Lohr, “the group’s three initial efforts have tried to determine the kinds of ads shown to Gmail users based on the text in their email messages; the product recommendations Amazon shows users based on their wish lists and other data; and the video recommendations made by YouTube determined by the videos users have previously viewed.”
The work on XRay was supervised in part by Augustin Chaintreau and Mathias Lecuyer, whose previous project Dispatch was funded by the Brown Institute in 2012-2013. XRay is the basis for a 2014-2015 Magic Grant by Charles Berret, Max Lee Tucker de Silva, Cecilia Reyes and Augustin Chaintreau, who are customizing the tool for journalistic investigations. XRay will be presented at the Usenix Security Symposium in San Diego. Try it out here.