NSF $500K Award to Study “Socio-Technical Strategies for Enhancing Privacy in Photo Sharing”

With the rise of digital photography and social networking, people are capturing and sharing photos on social media at an unprecedented rate. Such sharing may lead to privacy concerns for the people captured in such photos, e.g., in the context of embarrassing photos that go “viral” and are shared widely. At worst, online photo sharing can result in cyber-bullying that can greatly affect the subjects of such photos. This research builds on the observation that viewers of a photo are mindful of the privacy of other people, and could be influenced to protect their privacy when sharing photos online. First, the research will study how people think and feel about sharing photos of themselves and others. This will involve measuring their behavioral and physiological responses as they make their decisions. Second, the research will identify to what degree these decisions can be altered through technical mechanisms that are designed to encourage responsible image sharing activity that respects the privacy of people captured in the photo. The investigators will involve graduate and undergraduates students in this research.

This project brings together expertise in the psychological and brain sciences (Bennett Bertenthal) and computer security and privacy (Apu Kapadia) to explore socio-technical solutions for privacy in the context of photo sharing. In particular, the research focuses on first developing an understanding of people’s cognitive and affective dynamics while sharing photos on social media. The research seeks to 1) determine the effects of attention, depth of processing, and decisional uncertainty on image sharing decisions; and 2) identify the relationship between affective responses to images and decisions to share images on social media. Building on the knowledge gained from these experiments, the research seeks to develop and test a series of socio-technical intervention strategies such as face-highlighting and identity-priming, which are informed by a novel theoretical and methodological framework called objectification theory, or the idea that people are often motivated to see other people in terms of particular features or as objects of entertainment. These interventions will counteract objectification by encouraging viewers to consider the personal identity or privacy of the people depicted in each image before making image-sharing decisions. Thus, the mechanisms for addressing bystander privacy will be grounded in a psychological study that understands and manipulates the elements of decision making while sharing photos.