Dropbox Denies Giving Researchers Private User Data

Researchers claim that Dropbox gave them access to private user data that wasn’t anonymous. Dropbox denies this. Who do we believe? (via ZDNet).

[Dropbox: Using Selective Sync]

Private User Data

Researchers from Northwestern University published a study on Friday. It examines how successful teams collaborate using Dropbox. At one point in the study, it says that the company gave them access to project-folder-related data over a two year period from 400,000 users across 1,000 universities.

The researchers say they aggregated and anonymized this data, but apparently Dropbox didn’t. Later, the report was updated to say that Dropbox did aggregate and anonymize the data. In a statement to ZDNet, Dropbox said:

The article contained factual errors which we’re working to correct. To be clear, before providing any Dropbox users’ data to the researchers, Dropbox permanently anonymized the data by rendering any identifying user information unreadable, including individual emails and shared folder IDs. This process prevented [the researchers] from seeing any personal information, but allowed them to analyze the anonymized data for patterns and insights.

We don’t know if the users whose data was collected were asked for permission. We also don’t know why Dropbox didn’t check the study results before the researchers posted it.

[Artificial Intelligence Research, Unintended Consequences and Sex]

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