Smirity Kaushik's Dissertation Proposal Defense

Smirity Kaushik

Her committee includes Associate Professor Yang Wang (chair and co-director of research); Assistant Professor Madelyn Sanfilippo (co-director of research); Professor Michael Twidale; Camille Cobb, assistant professor of computer science, UIUC; and Yixin Zou, professor, Max Planck Institute for Security and Privacy, Germany.


Privacy in the information age is complicated to define and its scope is wide-ranging. From a socio-technical perspective, it is a dynamic, dialectic boundary regulation process. However, it is also contextual in nature depending on social and cultural norms. Religion and demographic differences also impact privacy perspective, e.g., privacy in Islam is tied to modesty and family honor beyond self.

At-risk users, including young adults, older adults, those who suffer discrimination based on race, gender, sex, and class, among others, may experience complex challenges due to broader societal structural inequalities, social norms, and biases that vary globally. For example, women in South Asia are expected to have their digital activities open to scrutiny by family members. It creates a need to integrate at-risk users' experiences, needs, and identities into information and communication technology (ICT) research to elevate the digital safety of all users.

Concurrently, the expansion of social media platforms in the last two decades has not only facilitated social connections and information dissemination but also brought the global community together. Since the user base on these platforms is continually expanding and diversifying, they serve as one of the most effective channels for advertisers to reach audiences through targeted advertising. In fact, the global social media advertising market is projected to reach $358 billion by 2026. However, user perception towards targeted advertising is like a double-edged sword. They might appreciate relevant ads, or that ads help them discover new brands and support small businesses. Simultaneously, they also dislike targeted advertising due to privacy concerns and perceptions of the ad ecosystem being creepy and invasive. While, targeted advertising studies address privacy concerns, but discussions about inclusive privacy and security are also propelled by issues such as racism, sexism, and the insufficient digital safety measures for at-risk users.

In this thesis proposal, I aim to improve the digital safety and trust experiences of two at-risk groups, non-western populations, and young adults, in the context of targeted and deceptive ads on social media platforms. I explore the privacy perceptions of people from the South Asian region about targeted advertisements on social media platforms and highlight how the social aspects of privacy, including, the cultural, social, and economic contexts could impact users' behavior, concerns, and privacy practices differently. Additionally, I also plan to contribute systematized knowledge of the ecosystem and taxonomy of deceptive ads on Short Video Sharing Platforms(SVSPs) and provide in-depth insights into young adults' experiences, practices, challenges, and possible mitigations. The proposed work will highlight the prevalence and impact of deceptive ads in SVSPs, specifically for young adults as an at-risk user group for digital safety.