The Internet Security Research Group (ISRG) has a plan to allow companies to collect information about how people are using their products while protecting the privacy of those generating the data.
Today, the California-based non-profit, which operates Let’s Encrypt, introduced Prio Services, a way to gather online product metrics without compromising the personal information of product users.
“Applications such as web browsers, mobile applications, and websites generate metrics,” said Josh Aas, founder and executive director of ISRG, and Tim Geoghegan, site reliability engineer, in an announcement. “Normally they would just send all of the metrics back to the application developer, but with Prio, applications split the metrics into two anonymized and encrypted shares and upload each share to different processors that do not share data with each other.”
Prio is described in a 2017 research paper [PDF] as “a privacy-preserving system for the collection of aggregate statistics.” The system was developed by Henry Corrigan-Gibbs, then a Stanford doctoral student and currently an MIT assistant professor, and Dan Boneh, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford.
Prio implements a cryptographic approach called secret-shared non-interactive proofs (SNIPs). According to its creators, it handles data only 5.7x slower than systems with no privacy protection. That’s considerably better than the competition: client-generated non-interactive zero-knowledge proofs of correctness (NIZKs) are 267x slower than unprotected data processing and privacy methods based on succinct non-interactive arguments of knowledge (SNARKs) clock in at three orders of magnitude slower.
“With Prio, you can get both: the aggregate statistics needed to improve an application or service and maintain the privacy of the people who are providing that data,” said Boneh in a statement. “This system offers a robust solution to two growing demands in our tech-driven economy.”
In 2018 Mozilla began testing Prio to gather Firefox telemetry data and found the cryptographic scheme compelling enough to make it the basis of its Firefox Origin Telemetry service.