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Isabel Wagner

Auditing Corporate Surveillance Systems: Research Methods for Greater Transparency

News headlines about privacy invasions, discrimination, and biases discovered in the platforms of big technology companies are commonplace today, and big tech's reluctance to disclose how they operate counteracts ideals of transparency, openness, and accountability. This book is for computer science students and researchers who want to study big tech's corporate surveillance from an experimental, empirical, or quantitative point of view and thereby contribute to holding big tech accountable. As a comprehensive technical resource, it guides readers through the corporate surveillance landscape and describes in detail how corporate surveillance works, how it can be studied experimentally, and what existing studies have found. It provides a thorough foundation in the necessary research methods and tools, and introduces the current research landscape along with a wide range of open issues and challenges. The book also explains how to consider ethical issues and how to turn research results into real-world change.

ISBN: 9781108837668

The Author

Isabel Wagner is an Associate Professor in Cyber Security at the University of Basel. She is a Senior Member of IEEE and ACM. Her research in privacy, computer networks, and experimental research methods is the foundation for this book on transparency and web measurement. She has given tutorials on this topic, for example at WWW 2020, and taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses on experimental methods to study corporate surveillance.


"This book is an excellent resource that reviews, categorizes, analyses, and systematically compares current research publications addressing privacy vs. surveillance and the technical methods used by both sides. I really enjoyed the book, as it serves as a comprehensive collection of research and gives readers the resources to understand corporate surveillance ecosystems."

Edgar Weippl, University of Vienna

"Isabel Wagner's book on auditing corporate surveillance systems is a thorough and comprehensive treatise of the evolution of web tracking and how researchers have attempted to reclaim privacy for web users. It is an excellent resource for those who not only wish to get up to speed with the current state of the art but also want to build future privacy-enhancing systems with real-world impact."

Nick Nikiforakis, Stony Brook University

Bibliographic Information

Title Auditing Corporate Surveillance Systems: Research Methods for Greater Transparency
Author Isabel Wagner
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Date published March 2022
Formats Hardback and e-book
ISBN-13 978-1108837668
ISBN-10 1108837662
eBook DOI 10.1017/9781108946940

Table of Contents

This book explains on a technical level how big tech companies like Google and Facebook track users on the web and sell user profiles for advertising, and it teaches computer science researchers, students, and journalists how to audit corporate surveillance systems to make them more transparent.
1. Corporate surveillance and the need for transparency
2. Technologies for corporate surveillance
3. Methods of corporate surveillance
4. Experiment design
5. Data collection
6. Data analysis
7. Transparency for corporate surveillance methods
8. Transparency for corporate services
9. Effectiveness of countermeasures
10. Making it count: towards real-world impact
11. Future directions in transparency research

Lecture slides

These slides have been developed for lectures at De Montfort University, including "Advanced Research Topics in Cyber Technology", "Emerging Topics in Security", and "Law, Ethics, Research Methods and Professionalism". The slides are free to use for non-commercial purposes, provided that the source of the slides, i.e. this website and the corresponding book, is cited appropriately. Please drop me an email, I would love to hear how you are using the slides!

April 2022: The lecture slides are now available. You can download PDFs for individual chapters below, or get the Latex sources for all chapters (Slides use LaTeX Beamer and the Metropolis theme).

1. Introduction to corporate surveillance [PDF]
2. How does corporate surveillance work? [PDF]
3. How can we study corporate surveillance? Overview of methods and results for the example of stateful tracking [PDF]
4. Experiment design [PDF]
5. Data collection [PDF]
6. Data analysis [PDF]
7. Results from transparency research: Tracking, profiling, analytics, advertising [PDF]
8. Results - Web services [PDF]
9. Results - Mobile services [PDF]
10. Results - Internet of Things [PDF]
11. Countermeasures and their effectiveness [PDF]
12. Towards real-world impact [PDF]
13. Challenges & open issues [PDF]


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