Personal Data: Thinking Inside the Box


  • Amir Chaudhry University of Cambridge
  • Jon Crowcroft University of Cambridge
  • Heidi Howard University of Cambridge
  • Anil Madhavapeddy University of Cambridge
  • Richard Mortier University of Cambridge
  • Hamed Haddadi Queen Mary University of London
  • Derek McAuley University of Nottingham



Personal Data, Computer Systems, Privacy


We are in a ‘personal data gold rush’ driven by advertising being the primary revenue source for most online companies. These companies accumulate extensive personal data about individuals with minimal concern for us, the subjects of this process. This can cause many harms: privacy infringement, personal and professional embarrassment, restricted access to labour markets, restricted access to highest value pricing, and many others. There is a critical need to provide technologies that enable alternative practices, so that individuals can par- ticipate in the collection, management and consumption of their personal data. In this paper we discuss the Databox, a personal networked device (and associated services) that col- lates and mediates access to personal data, allowing us to re- cover control of our online lives. We hope the Databox is a first step to re-balancing power between us, the data subjects, and the corporations that collect and use our data. 


Acquisti, A., John, L. K., and Loewenstein, G. What is privacy worth? Journal of Legal Studies 42, 2 (2013), 249–274.

Brown, I., and Laurie, B. Security against compelled disclosure. In Proc. IEEE ACSAC (Dec 2000), 2–10.

Crabtree, A., and Mortier, R. Human data interaction: Historical lessons from social studies and CSCW. In Proc. ECSCW (Oslo, Norway, Sept. 19–23 2015).

de Montjoye, Y.-A., Shmueli, E., Wang, S. S., and Pentland, A. S. openpds: Protecting the privacy of metadata through safeanswers. PLoS ONE 9, 7 (07 2014), e98790.

Dourish, P. What we talk about when we talk about context. PUC 8, 1 (Feb. 2004), 19–30.

Dwork, C. Differential privacy. In Automata, Languages and Programming, M. Bugliesi, B. Preneel, V. Sassone, and I. Wegener, Eds., vol. 4052 of LNCS. Springer, 2006, 1–12.

Falahrastegar, M., Haddadi, H., Uhlig, S., and Mortier, R. Anatomy of the third-party web tracking ecosystem. CoRR abs/1409.1066 (2014).

Gazagnaire, T., Chaudhry, A., Crowcroft, J., Madhavapeddy, A., Mortier, R., Scott, D., Sheets, D., and Tsipenyuk, G. Irmin: a branch-consistent distributed library database. In Proc. ICFP OCaml User and Developer Workshop (Sept. 2014).

Guha, S., Reznichenko, A., Tang, K., Haddadi, H., and Francis, P. Serving ads from localhost for performance, privacy, and profit. In ACM Workshop on Hot Topics in Networks (2009).

Gürses, S. Can you engineer privacy? Commun. ACM 57, 8 (Aug. 2014), 20–23.

Haddadi, H., Hui, P., and Brown, I. Mobiad: private and scalable mobile advertising. Proc. ACM MobiArch (2010).

Leontiadis, I., Efstratiou, C., Picone, M., and Mascolo, C. Don’t kill my ads! balancing privacy in an ad-supported mobile application market. Proc. ACM HotMobile (2012).

Luger, E., and Rodden, T. An informed view on consent for UbiComp. In Proc. ACM UBICOMP (2013), 529–538.

Madhavapeddy, A., Mortier, R., Rotsos, C., Scott, D., Singh, B., Gazagnaire, T., Smith, S., Hand, S., and Crowcroft, J. Unikernels: Library operating systems for the cloud. In Proc. ACM ASPLOS (Mar. 16–20 2013).

Mayer-Schonberger, V. Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Princeton University Press, 2009.

McAuley, D., Mortier, R., and Goulding, J. The Dataware Manifesto. In Proc. IEEE International Conf. on Communication Systems and Networks (COMSNETS) (January 2011). Invited paper.

Mortier, R., Greenhalgh, C., McAuley, D., Spence, A., Madhavapeddy, A., Crowcroft, J., and Hand, S. The personal container, or your life in bits. Proc. Digital Futures (2010).

Mortier, R., Haddadi, H., Henderson, T., McAuley, D., and Crowcroft, J. Human-data interaction: The human face of the data-driven society. SSRN (Oct. 1 2014).

Mortier, R., Rodden, T., Tolmie, P., Lodge, T., Spencer, R., Crabtree, A., Sventek, J., and Koliousis, A. Homework: Putting interaction into the infrastructure. In Proc. ACM UIST (2012), 197–206.

Mun, M., Hao, S., Mishra, N., Shilton, K., Burke, J., Estrin, D., Hansen, M., and Govindan, R. Personal data vaults: A locus of control for personal data streams. In Proc. ACM CoNEXT (2010), 1–12.

Naehrig, M., Lauter, K., and Vaikuntanathan, V. Can homomorphic encryption be practical? In Proc. ACM Cloud Computing Security Workshop (2011), 113–124.

Ng, I. C. Engineering a Market for Personal Data: The Hub-of-all-Things (HAT), A Briefing Paper. WMG Service Systems Working Paper Series (2014).

Rotsos, C., Howard, H., Sheets, D., Mortier, R., Madhavapeddy, A., Chaudhry, A., and Crowcroft, J. Lost in the edge: Finding your way with Signposts. In Proc. USENIX FOCI (Aug. 13 2013).

Skatova, A., Johal, J., Houghton, R., Mortier, R., Bhandari, N., Lodge, T., Wagner, C., Goulding, J., Crowcroft, J., and Madhavapeddy, A. Perceived risks of personal data sharing. In Proc. Digital Economy: Open Digital (Nov. 2013).

Vallina-Rodriguez, N., Shah, J., Finamore, A., Grunenberger, Y., Papagiannaki, K., Haddadi, H., and Crowcroft, J. Commercial break: Characterizing mobile advertising. In Proc. ACM IMC (2012).




How to Cite

Chaudhry, A., Crowcroft, J., Howard, H., Madhavapeddy, A., Mortier, R., Haddadi, H., & McAuley, D. (2015). Personal Data: Thinking Inside the Box. Aarhus Series on Human Centered Computing, 1(1), 4.



Keeping Secrets