I am an independent researcher and consultant focused on privacy, security, and behavioral economics. My work draws attention to privacy problems online, demystifies technology for the non-technically inclined, and provides data to help inform policy.
Ashkan Soltani has more than 20 years of experience as a technology consultant. His work raises awareness of privacy issues by providing information and tools that help individual consumers understand data security. His research examines the prevalence of online tracking and exposes practices designed to circumvent consumer privacy choices. Journalists and policymakers frequently cite his research on online tracking, data collection and privacy.
In 2009, he published KnowPrivacy with colleagues at UC Berkeley School of Information. The findings in this paper led to his role as the primary technical consultant for the Wall Street Journal: What They Know series investigating internet privacy and online tracking. This series was a finalist for 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting and the winner of the 2012 Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment. He also wrote software that aggregated media appearances and other relevant data for a Pulitzer-winning story, One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex.
As part of his effort to demystify technology, Ashkan developed an app called MobileScope that allows users to track what data their mobile apps transmit and where the device sends it. The MobileScope Project was named the winner of the Wall Street Journal’s 2012 Data Transparency Prize and developed into a full-feature platform which was recently aquired by Evidon.
Considered one of the leading experts on privacy and technology, Ashkan has appeared as an independent witness before both the Senate Commerce and Senate Judiciary Committees on the The State of Online Consumer Privacy and Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy. He also served as a staff technologist in the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection at the Federal Trade Commission where he helped architect the Do Not Track initiative. He was named a 2013 Berkman Center for Internet & Society affiliate at Harvard University.
Ashkan has a masters degree from UC Berkeley’s School of Information and has published major reports on the extent and methods of online tracking: KnowPrivacy: The Current State of Web Privacy, Data Collection, and Information Sharing, Flash Cookies and Privacy, and Flash Cookies and Privacy II(addendum here). In 2012, he worked with a team of researchers to investigate changes in online tracking tools from 2009 to 2011 and published Behavioral Advertising: The Offer You Cannot Refuse. This paper won the Computers, Privacy & Data Protection 2014 Multidisciplinary Privacy Research Award. Most recently, he co-authored an article on the dropping costs of surveillance which was published by the Yale Law Journal in January of 2014.
He also organizes the famous Tech Policy Happy Hours in DC (and any other city he travels through). If you’d like to attend, just email.
As of March 2013 my work is supported by Alethea Lange, a recent Johns Hopkins grad with an MA in Applied Economics and a knack for writing. She was previously a Legislative Assistant for former Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) focused on privacy and banking policy. Ali supports my mission of demystifying technology by translating my technical ruminations for public consumption using her folksy North Dakota charm. All typos can be reported to her.
I rely on Kristin Thomson to keep my organization up and running. Kristin has over twenty years of experience with small business management and nonprofit advocacy, learning everything from accounting, to grantwriting, to web design along the way. Kristin is a social researcher with an MA in Urban Affairs and Public Policy from the University of Delaware, and frequently writes about the issues at the intersection of music, law, technology and policy. She is currently co-director of Future of Music Coalition’s Artist Revenue Streams project, and was a lead author of Pew Internet and American Life’s report on Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies. All business-y things can be sent to her.