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Inria-Industry partnership


Improving protection for our digital lives


In the networks jungle, how to ensure protection of users' personal data? The French start-up, Novathings, and the Diana team at Inria joined forces to help individuals regain control of their digital lives

Photos, videos, contacts, personal files, geolocation data... the list goes on, and all this information is vulnerable when passing through the Internet, stored on public clouds or in our smartphones. This year, the hacking of Apple’s Cloud was a perfect illustration regarding data security issues. To overcome this challenge, Novathings, a young French start-up based near Aix-en-Provence, has developed a connected object, for mainstream market, which will enable to backup and protect our digital lives at home. Meanwhile, the Diana team at Inria aims at enabling citizens to retrieving control of their data on the Net and elsewhere. "We are made for each other" says Arnaud Legout, Researcher in the Diana team. The Partnership and Technology Transfer Office of Inria Sophia-Antipolis Méditerranée, connected Novathings with the research team, during spring 2014. A collaborative project has emerged, focusing on a solution able to interact with this connected object from devices such as smartphones and computers at home.

Ensuring data security

Designed by Novathings, this product named Helix, will be able to automatically backup any data its owner wishes to protect: photos, files, etc. "With our solution, it will be possible to automatically send to your Helix all the photos taken with your smartphone, thereby avoiding the tedious process of backup" explains Christophe Guionet, founder of Novathings. The overall idea is that Helix will backup all the digital data at home. "And, as one single point of backup is not enough to ensure complete data security, the user can link together several Helix. All data stored into the main Helix will will be automatically backed up into the secondary Helix located at a family member or at the office…," says Christophe Guionet. Through the creation of "communities“ of Helix, these tools will have all the advantages of a cloud solution without the recurring costs or doubts regarding cloud solutions.

Giving back control to the user

For its part, the Diana team sees Helix as a great opportunity for large-scale deployment of the softwares developed over the last few years, which goal is to provide people with more transparency about what happens to their data. "Nowadays, only the experts know how the apps we download on our smartphones use our data," reminds Arnaud Legout. "Most of them transmit our data to third-parties without our acknowledgement, or by requesting agreements that are practically impossible to understand.”

Willing to provide users with a better control of their data and back at the centre of the networks, the Diana team has therefore developed applications that can detect such leaks and also provide information on network performance. "Currently, when you have any bandwidth loss on the Net, it is very difficult to find out the cause. Why are there such glitches? Who is responsible for them? Our applications help providing a clearer picture of what's going on, thus improving transparency," adds Arnaud Legout.

One of the objectives of this cooperation between Novathings and Diana aims at implementing these applications on Helix. "We want to take advantage of the fact that all data flow in the home will pass through Helix to analyse this traffic, detect any leaks, eliminate them or inform the users of their existence," says Arnaud Legout. And even if Novathings is a young start-up, it might well, with Inria's help, contribute to putting a little order into the Internet jungle

The Carnot Institute: a helping hand in the emergence of a research collaboration with companies

The collaboration between Novathings and the Diana team will benefit from the support of the Inria Carnot Institute. "What really attracted us," explained Florent Genoux, in charge of partnerships and innovation projects at the Inria Sophia Antipolis – Méditerranée research centre, "was the quality of the questions, the long-term collaboration prospects with Novathings and the fact that the company's management is open-minded and had no hesitation in approaching Inria and discussing with our researchers."

In France, the "Carnot Institute" label is awarded to research organisations, including Inria, which are committed to developing research partnerships with companies and promoting technology transfer from public-sector research to industry. These institutes – 34 in France – receive an additional contribution from France's National Research Agency (ANR), which can be used, for example, to support this type of cooperation with a promising long-term future.

Keywords: Privacy Data Smartphone Architecture and user rights Connected objects Social networks Personal data backup and security