Security and privacy for Online Social Networks "SPION"

  • Pierson, Jo (Administrative Promotor)
  • Valcke, Martin (Co-Promotor)
  • Preneel, Bart (Coördinator)
  • Piessens, Frank (Co-Promotor)
  • Dumortier, Jos (Co-Promotor)
  • Acquisti, Alessandro (Co-Promotor)

Project Details


We are witnessing the rapid growth of a new generation of participatory and collaborative network technologies that provide individuals with a platform for sophisticated online social interaction. Social networks today have hundreds of millions of users and are transforming our social and professional interactions and to some extent are shaping society itself.

Gradually, society is discerning that this development not only brings strong benefits to the social and eco- nomic fabric, but also introduces new risks related to privacy violations, such as digital dossier aggregation, secondary data collection, cyberstalking, and liability risks. At this stage, these issues are often perceived as isolated incidents that most organizations do not take accountability for. Yet, the implications of social net- working environments for individual users, communities, organizations and society at large will become much more evident and most likely more substantial if necessary precautions are not taken. Especially alarming is the massive responsibility that individuals incur with respect to managing privacy and security risks arising from the information collected and shared about their everyday lives on social networking sites. This phenomenon is has been coined as the responsibilization of individuals. Further, in social networking services new types of relation- ships between and among users and service providers occur. It is so far not clear whether the current legislative framework for privacy and data protection is adequate to address the complexities of these relationships and the resulting privacy concerns.

The main objective of the SPION project is to mitigate the responsibilization of individuals who use or are affected by social networking services by making the underlying social networking infrastructures and the organizations that run them more accountable. We plan to achieve our objective by first understanding our target audience's needs as well as forms of responsibilization. This target audience includes users, communities and organizations in Flanders. We plan to develop solutions that facilitate better decision making with respect to the target groups' privacy and security concerns, and that mitigate the risks, threats and concerns that currently are manifest in this domain.

While targeting the development of privacy and security enhancing tools and materials that will enable the mitigation of the resulting responsibilization of individuals, we also plan to advance the state of the art in the different fields represented in the project. Specifically we will contribute to the understanding of the problems that individuals, communities and organizations are facing with respect to privacy and security in social networks, contribute positively to closing the gap in educational materials with respect to privacy and security in the educational sector, develop cognitive and behavioral models for privacy and security decision making, improve identity management systems for social networking services with transparency tools, develop new confidentiality and anonymity metrics, provide accountable collaborative access control models for social networks, and improve the security of web based technologies specific to the domain.

The valorisation objectives of the project are to raise awareness and to provide a broad range of solutions for enhanced privacy and security options from a multi-disciplinary viewpoint to the target audience. The di- mensions that will be addressed are again legal, social, behavioral, educational and technical. The project also intends to improve the understanding of the responsibilities and accountability of service providers and organiza- tions, raise privacy literacy, and positively affect the potential of individuals and communities to act in a socially responsible manner. A broad set of representatives of the target audience have committed to actively contribute to the SPION user group that contains 17 members - this group contains a mix of public sector organizations, civil society, and companies; it includes representation from public institutions and organizations (including employment), the educational field (schools, parents, teachers, social organization for youth support), consumers, and companies that use, offer or support social networks. The main target for the valorisation is the educational sector in Flanders.
Effective start/end date1/01/1131/12/14

Flemish discipline codes

  • Media and communications


  • Information Technologies
  • Communication Policy
  • Science Communication
  • New Media
  • Cultural theory and policy
  • Research On Media Effects
  • Ethnicity
  • Privacy