Professor profile: We need a better understanding of information we share online
On Thursday, October 14, Professor of Computer Science at ITU, Louise Barkhuus, will present her inaugural lecture and take a closer look at the personal data we share online, how developers can assuage users’ fears, and what the digital future holds.
When Professor of Computer Science, Louise Barkhuus, on October 14 will present her inaugural lecture at ITU, she will address an issue that every citizen of the digital world deals with on a regular basis. The professor, who completed her PhD at the IT University in 2004 before teaching at among other universities Cornell Tech and UCSD in the United States, conducts research in the field of online privacy.
“Most people rarely consider the extent to which their personal information is kept and shared. And there is a good reason why: It is incredibly difficult to get an overview of what and how much personal data we share when we go online,” says Louise Barkhuus.
Her research is focused on the multi-disciplinary field of human-computer interaction (HCI) which as the name implies concerns human interaction with technology. In her research, Louise Barkhuus is particularly interested in user experience and privacy issues in location-based apps and social media. She relies on her extensive knowledge about social media usage of location-determining sensors to find ways to improve the types of technologies that we all use in our daily lives.
The Privacy Paradox
“In my inaugural lecture, I will present a historical run down of privacy issues and how they have evolved. I will also make my own predictions about the future of the field,” says Louise Barkhuus.
As more and more aspects of society become digital, the regulatory effort has become more and more complicated. Today, it is very hard for ordinary people to get a nuanced understanding of what and how much sensitive data they share online, where it is stored, and who has access to it. The right to online privacy and data protection is a topic of much debate in the media and many people worry about what they share online, but that concern does not necessarily translate into action:
“We talk a lot about the Privacy Paradox,” says Louise Barkhuus. “It is a paradox that users generally voice a lot of concern about their data privacy, yet in reality they do very little about it.”
One of the reasons why we as users online have a hard time of seeing the full scope of the problem and acting on it is a combination of lack of information and very complicated rules on the subject, according to the researcher. For instance, GDPR-legislation which was passed to secure the privacy rights of all EU citizens has further complicated a set of problems that were already difficult to navigate in the first place. Similarly, developers’ consent forms are not getting any less labyrinthine either. In most cases users are simply overloaded with information, according to Louise Barkhuus.
“I recently examined the problem in a survey of the challenge posed in getting people to download and use contact tracing apps for disease prevention in select European countries. Most of the people who responded felt certain prior to doing any research of their own that the apps record and store the user’s location. But none of the apps we worked with did. There is a need for better information campaigns.”
The problem will persist in the future
According to the researcher, storing and sharing sensitive personal data will only become a greater issue in the future. As a society, we must prepare ourselves for the fact that in the future we will have to share more personal data than we already do and the threat from cyber attacks will only grow as well.
“But the benefits from sharing personal data with technologies far outweigh the negative consequences, so I believe we will adapt and learn to live with it,” says Louise Barkhuus. “It is of course important that we continue to work towards more transparency. I want my work to contribute to ways of finding solid solutions in the quest for better technologies.”
Professor Louise Barkhuus will present her inaugural lecture entitled "The past, present and future of location and privacy in HCI" in auditorium 0 at ITU on Thursday, Oct. 14 at 3 pm followed by a reception at 4 pm. Theis Duelund Jensen, Press Officer, Tel: +45 2555 0447, email: firstname.lastname@example.org