Advancing Digital Safety for High-Risk Communities

Allison McDonald, University of Michigan
Host: Johns Hopkins Department of Computer Science

Security and privacy research has led to major successes in improving the baseline level of digital security for the general population. Nevertheless, privacy and security tools and strategies are not equally effective for everyone—many high-risk communities face security, privacy, and safety risks that are not well addressed by current solutions. My work uses an interdisciplinary approach to investigate the digital safety needs and challenges for high-risk users, quantify the impact of government regulation and corporate policy on safety, and inform the design of technical and procedural interventions that support safety for all.

In this talk, I will discuss two studies in detail that showcase the opportunities of taking an interdisciplinary approach to supporting digital safety for high-risk communities such as sex workers, undocumented immigrants, and survivors of intimate partner violence. First, I will discuss findings from an in-depth qualitative interview study on the security needs and practices of sex workers in Europe, highlighting their safety needs as well as technical and policy challenges that impede their safety. Then, I will describe a large-scale global measurement study on geoblocking, which reveals corporate and legal policies that are contributing to the fragmentation of Internet access worldwide. I will further provide an overview of my future research agenda, which will leverage both qualitative and quantitative methods to inform policy and technical design.

Speaker Biography

Allison McDonald is a computer science PhD candidate at the University of Michigan and a Research Fellow at the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law. Her research interests lie in the intersection of security, privacy, and human-computer interaction, with a particular emphasis on how technology exacerbates marginalization and impacts digital safety. Allison has been supported by a Facebook Fellowship and a Rackham Merit Fellowship, and her work has been recognized with Best Paper Awards at the USENIX Security Symposium, IEEE Security & Privacy Symposium, and the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI). Before beginning her PhD, Allison was a Roger M. Jones fellow at the European University Viadrina studying international human rights and humanitarian law. She has a BSE in computer science and a BS in German from the University of Michigan.