2014 Explanatory Reporting, Large Newsroom finalist

Privacy and Information Security


Joanna S. Kao, Lam Thuy Vo, Stokely Baksh, Rhyne Piggott, Alessandra Bastagli

Al Jazeera America

Explanatory Reporting, Large Newsroom


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About the Project

We’ve used the privacy and information security beat as an opportunity to play with different ways of storytelling — a news game to make a memorable point about hidden cameras, GIFs for explaining data storage and transmission processes and a browser extension to contextualize information seamlessly for users when they need it.

In our story on private investigators and the different ways regular people can spy on each other, we included a news game about hidden cameras to show how easy it is to hide them in everyday objects.

We also wrote a series of stories related to passwords and information security. After over 150 million rows of data from Adobe were leaked in October, we obtained a copy of the leaked data set and analyzed it for the most common passwords. After explaining how easy it was for Adobe’s passwords to be cracked because of their password storage method, we created a short news game to show users just how easy it was.

As a follow-up to the Adobe password leak story, we decided to look into the ways popular Internet companies store passwords. In addition to creating an explainer about the basics of password storage, we created a Chrome extension, Passworthy, so that users could see how responsible online services are when storing their passwords. It aims to increase the transparency between service providers and their customers.

The data collected for Passworthy could have been put in just a searchable database on a website, but it probably would have faded into oblivion after a few hours and been useless to users when they needed the information. Passworthy data is most useful to users when they are using a website and signing up for new user accounts. Passworthy as a browser extension makes getting information about a company’s password storage methods seamless and makes it easier for users to decide whether or not to trust a company with their personal information.

When the Heartbleed bug was discovered, we used GIFs to explain the bug and extended Passworthy to include data about Heartbleed.

Passworthy is an ongoing project that will continue to update as we request information on security practices from companies.