AP4L: Adaptive PETs to Protect & emPower People during Life Transitions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey
Department Name: Computing Science

Abstract

AP4L is a 3-year program of interdisciplinary research, centring on the online privacy & vulnerability challenges that people face when going through major life transitions. Our central goal is to develop privacy-by-design technologies to protect & empower people during these transitions. Our work is driven by a narrative that will be familiar to most people. Life often "just happens", leading people to overlook their core privacy and online safety needs. For instance, somebody undergoing cancer treatment may be less likely to finesse their privacy setting on social media when discussing the topic. Similarly, an individual undergoing gender transition may be unaware of how their online activities in the past may shape the treatment into the future. This project will build the scientific and theoretical foundations to explore these challenges, as well as design and evaluate three core innovations that will address the identified challenges. AP4L will introduce a step-change, making online safety and privacy as painless and seamless as possible during life transitions

To ensure a breadth of understanding, we will apply these concepts to four very different transitions through a series of carefully designed co-creation activities, devised as part of a stakeholder workshop held in Oct'21. These are relationship breakdowns; LBGT+ transitions or transitioning gender; entering/ leaving employment in the Armed Forces; and developing a serious illness or becoming terminally ill. Such transitions can significantly change privacy considerations in unanticipated or counter-intuitive ways. For example, previously enabled location-sharing with a partner may lead to stalking after a breakup; 'coming out' may need careful management across diverse audiences (e.g - friends, grandparents) on social media.

We will study these transitions, following a creative security approach, bringing together interdisciplinary expertise in Computer Science, Law, Business, Psychology and Criminology.
We will systematise this knowledge, and develop fundamental models of the nature of transitions and their interplay with online lives. These models will inform the development of a suite of technologies and solutions that will help people navigate significant life transitions through adaptive, personalised privacy-enhanced interventions that meet the needs of each individual and bolster their resilience, autonomy, competence and connection. The suite will comprise:

(1) "Risk Playgrounds", which will build resilience by helping users to explore potentially risky interactions of life transitions with privacy settings across their digital footprint in safe ways
(2) "Transition Guardians", which will provide real-time protection for users during life transitions.
(3) "Security Bubbles", which will promote connection by bringing people together who can help each other (or who need to work together) during one person's life transition, whilst providing additional guarantees to safeguard everyone involved.

In achieving this vision, and as evidenced by £686K of in-kind contributions, we will work with 26 core partners spanning legal enforcement agencies (e.g., Surrey Police), tech companies (e.g., Facebook, IBM), support networks (e.g., LGBT Foundation, Revenge Porn Helpline) and associated organisations (e.g., Ofcom, Mastercard, BBC). Impact will be delivered through various activities including a specially commissioned BBC series on online life transitions to share knowledge with the public; use of the outputs of our projects by companies & social platforms (e.g., by incorporating into their products, & by designing their products to take into consideration the findings of our project) & targeted workshops to enable knowledge exchange with partners & stakeholders.

Publications

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