Digital information about users is undoubtedly the oil of the new economy. Collecting, processing, and leveraging such data at large scale, a trend called Big Data, is the fuel that powers many online services like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Netflix. While Big Data has a tremendous potential, it also raises a severe concern for users’ privacy. My main research interests focus on these two sides of Big Data.
Understanding, predicting and shaping human behavior
Big Data hold many promises, not only for the individual but also for the public good. At the individual level, Big Data can help users to become more connected, productive, and entertained. At the society level, Big Data creates tremendous opportunities in areas ranging from marketing to public health and urban planning. My work in this area has focused on social networks, by trying to understand and characterize how topological features of social networks affect their overall performance. Having such an understanding, would then allow us to predict future performance and intervene when performance should be improved.
Privacy and security aspects of personal data
A series of privacy incidents over the last few months have focused public attention on how governments, businesses and other entities collect vast amounts of data about people’s lives and how that information is analyzed and used. Such concerns over privacy and data protection tamper the tremendous opportunities and extraordinary benefits of Big Data. Finding the right balance between privacy risks and rewards remains a great challenge. My own work in this area has focused on investigating technological means of protecting personal data while keeping them as useful as possible.