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New Site Offers Privacy Resources for Underserved Populations

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If you’re someone with disabilities needing help with your online privacy and computer access needs, a family member or practitioner who supports people with disabilities or a scholar seeking information about online privacy for underserved populations, a new information resource is available.

Yang Wang

Inclusiveprivacy.org is a comprehensive website developed and curated by the Social Computing Systems Lab at the School of Information Studies (iSchool). The site is an outgrowth of the research work of Assistant Professor Yang Wang and the lab’s team of iSchool faculty and student researchers. Wang leads the project as principal investigator with a grant from the National Science Foundation and additional funding from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research.

The site is intended to provide information and assistance to people with disabilities of all kinds in order to help them improve the privacy of their computer use and their access to online security mechanisms. It is a component of Wang’s three-part research project on inclusive privacy, whose goal is to work toward achieving more effective privacy mechanisms for the widest range of people possible. “Privacy or security mechanisms are usually designed with the generic population in mind,” the site notes, and these “often fall short of supporting many under-studied or marginalized sub-populations.”

A Big Deal

Privacy in online, computer and technology use generally is a big issue, and it’s one that’s growing larger all the time, according to Wang. “Privacy is a big deal. It’s not something you can ignore. Privacy nowadays is a frequent topic in the news media. We’ve seen so many incidents in the recent past…Facebook, Google, all these household technology names are struggling with privacy issues,” he notes.

The site will also be helpful to family members and practitioners who support people with disabilities, particularly disabled persons who have visual impairments, he said. It’s also designed to serve as a comprehensive resource for scholars in the growing community of researchers who are looking at online privacy and technology use for underserved populations.

In addition, Wang says, the information housed there will be useful for designers and developers of applications, computer systems and new software and technologies for people in general, as well as those with various disabilities.    

Finding Resources

The site provides links to the latest research papers on those topics, as well as practical tutorials based on a series of workshops that Wang is creating as the community outreach component of his NSF grant. There also is a trove of reference material on the site, including a bibliography of research papers and articles sorted by topics. Categories include:

  • Dis/abilities and Abilities
  • General Studies on Disability/Usability
  • Older Adults
  • Culture/Cross-cultural/Non-Western
  • Children and Family
  • Teens and Young People
  • Domestic Abuse Survivors
  • LGBTQIA+
  • Women and Gender Studies
  • Immigrants
  • Veterans
  • Ethnic Minorities
  • Theories

An Exciting Year

The site’s debut now is significant because 2018 “is a really exciting year for privacy scholars,” Wang says. He cites the European Union’s adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation as “a huge change in the privacy landscape.” Another new piece of legislation this year is the California Consumer Privacy Act, which takes effect in 2020. Both are likely to pave the way for federal action on privacy regulation, Wang believes.

“What’s important here, once the laws are in place, is that it’s going to mean a sea change in the industry, and that probably will affect every one of us,” he adds.

While Wang has studied the issues of privacy and facilitating computer and technology access for people with various types of disabilities for many years, there is much yet to discover, he says, citing a lesson he likes to pass along to students and other researchers. It is: “If you’re in the position to design or affect the design of privacy and security mechanisms, you need to be mindful about the diversity of your users. The status quo is disappointing because most of the current mechanisms weren’t designed with these populations in mind. In turn, the underserved populations become even more vulnerable to privacy and security threats because the mechanisms we have now don’t really support them and don’t fit with their practices. So, you have to do something, or they will be even more vulnerable and more marginalized.”

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