Privacy in a Data-Driven World

Roxana Geambasu


The concept of personal privacy as a precious and fragile commodity worthy of protection has come under siege in today's data-driven world. Users are eager to share their data online, and mobile applications and web services aggressively collect and monetize that information. This talk describes our vision for a new, privacy-preserving world; in it, users are more aware of the privacy implications of their online actions, and systems and applications are designed from the ground up with privacy in mind. In support of this vision, we describe our research agenda to design, build, and evaluate new transparency tools that increase users' and privacy watchdogs' visibility into how personal data is being used by applications, and programming abstractions and tools that facilitate the construction of privacy-mindful applications. We provide two examples of such tools and abstractions. First, we describe Sunlight, a new web transparency tool that helps privacy watchdogs track how web services use individuals' personal data to target ads, personalize content, or adjust prices. Second, we describe FairTest, a new testing toolkit that helps programmers test for unfair or discriminatory effects within their data-driven applications. Overall, our tools and abstractions aim to increase privacy by promoting a more responsible, fair, and accountable approach to user data management.


Roxana Geambasu is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Columbia University. She joined Columbia in Fall 2011 after finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Washington. For her work in cloud and mobile data privacy, she received an Early Career Award in Cybersecurity from the University of Washington Center for Academic Excellence, a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship, a 2014 "Brillint 10" Popular Science nomination, an NSF CAREER award, an Honorable Mention for the 2013 inaugural Dennis M. Ritchie Doctoral Dissertation Award, a William Chan Dissertation Award, two best paper awards at top systems conferences, and the first Google Ph.D. Fellowship in Cloud Computing.

Time and Place

Tuesday, November 3, 4:15pm
Gates 463