Barbosa and Wang receive Facebook grant to design privacy controls for ad targeting

Nata Barbosa
Natã Barbosa
Yang Wang
Yang Wang, Associate Professor

iSchool PhD student Natã Barbosa and his advisor Associate Professor Yang Wang have received a $65,053 grant from Facebook for their project, "In-Situ Privacy Controls of Profiling and Ad-Targeting." The goal of the project is to design a privacy control framework that makes profiling and ad-targeting more transparent to ordinary Internet users.

Currently, users have the opportunity to review their ad-targeting profiles after their data has been collected and processed, such as through Facebook's Ad Preferences and Google's Ad Personalization settings. This post-hoc approach may lead users to turn-off personalized ad-targeting completely, which undermines their experience and limits a company's ability to serve relevant ads. Barbosa and Wang are exploring designs that notify users and give them control as their ad-targeting profiles are being composed. This "privacy-by-design" alternative shifts control to users without overwhelming them.

"Through ad explanations, dashboards of ad interests, and the Off-Facebook Activity setting, users have the opportunity to review what information about their activities have helped inform their ad-targeting profiles. With our approach, users would be notified and given a choice about whether to share their data," said Barbosa.

"A key novelty of this work is that we can illuminate how online and offline activities might lead to certain targeted ads. For example, at the time they listen to a song on an app or a website, or visit a local coffee shop, they would be made aware that their actions could help build their profile and be given the choice to allow or deny the sharing of their data," added Wang.

Wang also commented, "Natã is very motivated. He took the lead in developing the proposal based on his dissertation plan. I'm also excited about the possibility that Facebook may incorporate our research in their products to improve transparency and user privacy."

Barbosa designs and evaluates novel data-driven systems aimed at increasing algorithmic transparency, preventing privacy violations, and building trust. He earned his master's degree in information science and technology from Syracuse University and bachelor's degree in information systems from Centro Universitário Católica de Santa Catarina.

Wang conducts research focusing on usable privacy and security technologies, social computing, human-computer interaction, and explainable artificial intelligence. His research has received support from NSF, the Department of Health and Human Services, Google, Alcatel-Lucent, and The Privacy Projects, and has appeared in news outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, and China Daily. Wang's honors include the IAPP SOUPS Privacy Award, NSF CAREER Award, and a Top Privacy Paper for Policy Makers selected by the Future of Privacy Forum. He earned his PhD in information and computer science from the University of California, Irvine.

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