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Activity Finder, a Data Collection Framework for Linux

Description

Activity Finder is a collection of existing Linux packages with hooks that collect various statistics and log them into the Zeitgeist daemon. It also comes with customised Zeitgeist GUIs for visualising and controlling the collected events. This project is part of Steve’s research at UCL. It will be used in a field study to collect information about Linux users’ multitasking practices, and about how their applications communicate with each other and access resources.

Platform support

Currently, the finder only targets Ubuntu as a supported platform. It requires a vanilla version of Ubuntu with no other PPAs or hand-built packages. Because of its nature, it requires hooks into low-level libraries such as GTK+ and the GLib, and into each file manager, window manager, etc. out there. It quickly becomes tedious to maintain such hooks, when the original packages are developed by hundreds of people and change on a daily basis. Activity Finder also only aims to support the Chromium and Firefox Web browsers. By the time it is released, Activity Finder is also very likely to contain kernel hooks or a custom Linux Security Module for system call logging.

Where to get it

A PPA is available on Launchpad for Ubuntu 15.04 Vivid. Activity Finder is mostly released under the GPLv3, though each individual hook package implements the license of the original upstream package.

What gets collected?

Activity Finder will record which applications you use, how they are launched and perform IPC, and the filenames of documents you open and save (the content is not recorded). It will record which windows are open at the same time, in which workspaces and how you switch between them. It will also record the titles of open windows and visited web pages (but not their content). Metadata will be collected about your clipboard (but not the clipboard content). Finally, it will record when your computer is active and inactive.

See the associated study’s information sheet for more details.

What will happen with Activity Finder?

It will be used in a scientific study about Linux users’ multitasking practices and their apps’ file access patterns. Please don’t advertise the study by pointing to my website, as it contains numerous hints as to the nature of my research, which may biase potential participants with regard to their security habits.

I will publish the results of the study as they become available, most likely next year and in small batches. The collected data is due to be used in multiple projects I’m working on.

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