Doctoral Thesis: Accountable Systems: Enabling Appropriate Use of Information on the Web


Event Speaker: 

Oshani Seneviratne

Event Location: 

32-G449 (Kiva)

Event Date/Time: 

Friday, August 8, 2014 - 10:00am


The Web is plagued by problems of privacy and piracy. In each
instance, outdated laws combined with current technology provides
little reassurance to information providers, while outdated
regulations  have damaging side effects. To meet this challenge, we
have designed, built, and tested and present a new architecture for
information exchange on the Internet called HTTPA (Hyper Text Transfer
Protocol with Accountability). In this 'Accountable' architecture,
information use is tracked from its creation through its modification,
repurposing and republishing with the help of the 'Provenance Tracking
Network', a decentralized network of peers that together record the
rules governing resources on the Web, coupled with how how these
resources are shared and used.

We found that the accountable systems framework provides an attractive
compromise where the rights and abilities of parties to control access
and use is balanced against the burden of restrictions imposed for two
prototype applications; one dealing with privacy in healthcare, and
the other with rights in photo sharing. Healthcare patients given the
ability to be notified of use of their medical records judged that
they had sufficient privacy protection, while doctors obtained easier
access to the records. Providers of photos could be assured their
images were not being misused, without the many drawbacks that digital
rights management (DRM) systems impose on those consuming the

On the longer run, we envision that HTTPA will be accepted by the Web
community to meet the concerns of privacy and copyright violations on
the Web, in a similar vein in which the growth of e-commerce websites
led to the massive adoption of HTTPS.
Thesis Supervisors: Tim Berners-Lee, Lalana Kagal
Thesis Committee: Hal Abelson, Susan Landau, Daniel Weitzner