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Need for transparency on the Web

16 November 2010 Southampton, University of

The need for more transparency in Web-based information systems has been highlighted by an academic at the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science.

In a paper entitled The Foundations for Provenance on the Web, which is published in the journal, Foundations and Trends in Web Science, Professor Luc Moreau points out that due to the complex flows of information on the Web, it is not always clear where information originates from.

“This is a challenge since we want to be able to establish the exact source of information, we want to decide whether information has been altered, and by whom, we want to corroborate and possibly reproduce such information, and ultimately we want to decide whether the information comes from a trustworthy source,” said Professor Moreau.

According to Professor Moreau, the solution lies in ‘provenance’, a term used in diverse areas such as art, archaeology and palaeontology, which describes the history of an object since its creation. Its main focus is to establish that the object has not been forged or altered, and the same can be done with computer-generated data.

“Understanding where data comes from will enable users to decide if it’s trustworthy. This will also lead to a new generation of services over the Web, capable of producing trusted information,” Professor Moreau added.

In his paper, Professor Moreau reviews several approaches that adopt provenance, allowing their actions and information flows to be audited, and their compliance or violation to rules and policies to be determined. These strong capabilities - information transparency, auditing capabilities and compliance detection - provide users with the means to decide whether they can trust systems and information.

“A powerful argument for provenance is that it can help make systems transparent,” said Professor Moreau. “Our aim, with the community of researchers, is to establish a standard method to ascertain the provenance of information on the Web.”

A copy of the paper: Luc Moreau (2010) The Foundations for Provenance on the Web, Foundations and Trends® in Web Science: Vol. 2: No 2-3, pp 99-241 can be accessed at:

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