Patil awarded NSF CAREER grant to improve the user experience of privacy management

By: Ken Bikoff (reposted from SICE NEWS with permission of the author)

Mar. 18, 2019

Sameer Patil

Sameer Patil, an assistant professor at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, has been awarded the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) prestigious CAREER award. The $685,282 grant will support Patil’s efforts to develop, implement, and validate novel techniques that apply social insight to create solutions that enhance the user experience when it comes to the management of privacy when using modern technology.

Patil’s research aims to combat the so-called “privacy paradox,” wherein users say that privacy is important to them, but their actions show quite the opposite. He plans to develop methods that will allow users to specify their privacy preferences more effectively while also customizing privacy settings interfaces to fit users’ priorities.

“Being awarded a CAREER grant by the NSF is a strong demonstration and validation that my ideas on improving privacy preference specification are interesting and novel,” Patil said. “It also shows that the community recognizes an independent research agenda that can make an impact. It will help me support two graduate students and perform outreach activities to educate the general public.”

Patil’s proposal features three main goals. The first is to personalize preference settings. Currently, users are all offered the same privacy preferences, but that model doesn’t fit the real world. Some users might wish to maintain privacy in regards to their location, while others may be more concerned about access to their communications. Patil will explore personalized preferences by adapting and customizing interfaces for privacy settings based on what the user’s priorities.

A second goal is to make the adjustment of privacy settings for individual apps more efficient.

“If someone has 50 or more apps on their phone, it can be time consuming to search for the privacy settings for each app and make their adjustments,” Patil said. “Right now, people may say, ‘I have to do this for all apps individually, so I’m not going to do it for any of them.’ I’m trying design user experiences that enable privacy management to be performed in small, manageable chunks.”

Finally, Patil will leverage trusted community members to help users maintain their privacy settings.

“The way my mom adjusts privacy settings is by bringing me her phone and saying, ‘Can you set this up for me?’ Patil said. “In some sense, there isn’t a good mechanism for me to do that unless she brings the phone to me. Can we come up with ways in which a user can say, ‘I don’t know what to do with this setting, but I have a trusted knowledgeable person who can adjust the settings for me.’? It’s a technique to allow other people to represent you and adjust your privacy settings.”

Patil’s proposal includes educational efforts involving research experience for undergraduates and outreach to local high schools to teach students the importance of managing privacy settings.

“Sameer’s work in privacy is playing an important role in the understanding and development of cybersecurity aspects of modern technologies, and the CAREER grant will allow him to continue this critical work,” said Raj Acharya, dean of SICE. “We’re proud of the role our school is taking in the field of privacy, and Sameer’s research helps reinforce our leadership in this key area.”

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