Kapadia awarded NSF grant to study privacy in photo sharing

Apu Kapadia
Apu Kapadia

Apu Kapadia, an associate professor of computer science at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation worth nearly $500,000 to study how people think and feel about privacy when sharing photos online as well as how developments in technology to improve privacy are shaping the decision to share photos.

The project, “Socio-Technical Strategies for Enhancing Privacy in Photo Sharing,” will be conducted in collaboration with Bennett Bertenthal, James H. Rudy Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the psychological and brain sciences department at IU. The research seeks to determine the effects of attention, depth of processing, and decisional uncertainty that goes along with image sharing, and it aims to identify the relationship between affective responses to images and decisions to share images on social media. The research will blend expertise in psychological and brain sciences, and computer security and privacy to explore socio-technical solutions for privacy in the context of photo sharing.

“The primary application is to improve the privacy of people captured in the photo,” Kapadia said. “Although the person taking the photo may be free to share these photos, we hope to understand whether these ‘owners’ of the photo can be influenced to consider or re-consider the privacy of those within the photo by perhaps not sharing the photo, limiting the photo's audience, or transforming the photo through cropping or blurring.”

Kapadia and Bertenthal share interests in preserving privacy of people in the context of material that is shared online. Through a series of meetings with their research groups, they realized they had complementary skillsets that could be applied to the problem, and they decided to address the question of photo sharing as a collaborative project. They hope their interdisciplinary work can find solutions that go beyond the technical realm.

“Strictly technical solutions that try to restrict how and when photos are shared may be impossible to enforce in practice,” Kapadia said. “Instead, this project seeks to find a socio-technical solution by relying on people's sense of propriety and seeing if they can be made to consider the privacy of others.”

The three-year grant will use lab experiments to study photo sharing using behavioral, eye tracking, and physiological measures of decision making to understand the process by which photos are shared and develop tools for users.

“There are both good and troubling facets to our ability to share photos quickly and conveniently,” said Kay Connelly, associate dean of research at SICE. “Apu’s work will hopefully help people understand the impact they have on others when they share a photo, and it will be critical to developing methods that can limit the influence photos can have on a person’s privacy without their consent.”

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