bubbles.jpgResearchers from the Center for Information Technology Policy have released a study on the standardized forms commonly used in testing and voting that require respondents to select answers by penciling in a bubble.

CITP’s surprising finding? These forms are not so anonymous as one might think. The researchers have created a computer program that can identify an individual’s distinctive way of filling in bubble forms.

“Imagine that a student takes a standardized test, performs poorly, and pays someone to repeat the test on his behalf,” writes graduate student Will Clarkson in a blog post about the study. “Comparing the bubble marks on both answer sheets could provide evidence of such cheating. A similar approach could detect third-party modification of certain answers on a single test.”

The program could be used to detect fraudulent absentee ballots but also to violate anonymity in areas where scanned images of ballots are released to the public.

The senior author on the paper is CITP’s director Ed Felten, currently on leave from Princeton as the chief technologist for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Read more on Discover or Freedom to Tinker.

By the way, in another recent interesting study, graduate student Timothy Lee found that those black boxes used to redact information from court documents don’t always work