European Project Keeps Personal Details Private

The EU-backed ABC4Trust scheme stops users over-sharing on websites

The European Union has launched a project which will boost users’ privacy by ensuring they share just enough data… but not too much.

Launched on Europe’s Data Protection Day, The €13.5 million (£11.6 million) ABC4Trust project will be piloted at two academic institutions, one in Sweden and the other in Greece, where it will be used to allow students to take part in online activity without accidentally revealing details of their identity.

ABC4 masks details

ABC4Trust is based on encryption technology developed by IBM Research, academic institutions and IBM’s corporate partners, such as Microsoft and Nokia Siemens, across Europe. The cryptographic algorithms are designed to ensure that an individual’s real identity, including personal attributes and behaviour profiles, are never exposed without the individual’s consent.

The concept is simple. It masks the user’s data and will only reveal what is actually required. Too often, Websites request data that is irrelevant to the user’s request for access or services. Why provide your entire home address when you are only required to prove that you are a citizen of a municipality? Why give your full birth date when you only need to show you are over 18?

Giving away too much exposes users to identity theft, and leads to the loss of over £38 billion a year through fraud, according to figures supplied by the National Fraud Authority (NFA). In the US, the government has called for a national identity ecosystem to combat the problem, and the EU is considering a European cybercrime agency to combat the problem here.

The four-year ABC4Trust initiative derives its name from Attribute-Based Credentials and makes use of IBM’s Identity Mixer and Microsoft’s U-Prove technologies.

“With technologies like Identity Mixer, we provide the technical capabilities to bring not only strong security to Internet services, but – at the same time – also better privacy”, stated Jan Camenisch, privacy technology scientist at IBM Research, Zurich. “Making use of more than ten years of research and development, we are now going to deploy these solutions in practice and address usability and interoperability.”

The first pilot will be implemented at a secondary school in Söderhamn, Sweden. The ABC system will allow pupils and parents to securely authenticate themselves for services offered by the school, such as communicating with the school’s medical and social counsellors as well as accessing a social network limited to a specific group of pupils.

The second pilot, conducted at the Research Academic Computer Technology Institute in Patras, Greece, will enable students to poll and rank the courses they took and their respective lecturers anonymously.