University of Maryland

PEARL: Researching Privacy, Surveillance, and Ethical Questions Arising From New Technologies

Led by iSchool professor Jessica Vitak, the Privacy Education & Research Lab (PEARL) provides insights into the privacy implications of new technologies collecting data from and about us while at home, school, and work. Beyond that, PEARL researchers work to design tools, curricula, and other resources to help people feel more confident making decisions about technology.

See the Projects Page for updates on ongoing research studies. Journalists, researchers, or students interested in this research should contact Dr. Vitak at jvitak[at]


Information and communication technologies (ICTs) like smartphones, wearables, and sensors are reshaping the content individuals share, the audiences with whom they communicate, and the entities that collect and analyze personal information. The social and technical affordances of these technologies may simplify our lives in multiple ways, but they also blur distinctions between public and private spaces and information. This, in turn, raises broad questions about the privacy and security of data, as well as whether data collection and use practices are ethical and whether the design of systems and tools encourages—or discourages—consumers to develop their skills and agency in using technology and managing data flows.

For more than a decade, my research has explored these challenges, largely by focusing on the privacy risks raised by widespread use of and reliance on ICTs at home, school, and work. Using mixed methods—including surveys, experiments, interviews, focus groups, and participatory design—I have worked with a wide range of stakeholders and user groups to identify challenges and risks they face and evaluate potential solutions. I’ve worked with children, parents, and teachers to explore ways to better prepare today’s children for tomorrow’s privacy and security threats. I’ve worked with smart home enthusiasts to identify core design components to make smart home data more visible, accessible, and comprehensible. I’ve worked with low-income families–and the public library staff that support them–to develop training and other resources to minimize vulnerabilities associated with public computers, scams, and situations where they are prompted to share personal information. Spanning across these projects, my research also considers the ethical implications of large-scale data collection, analysis, and use. I seek to understand what constitutes appropriate uses of data from the perspectives of end-users, researchers, and ethics review boards.

I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with an amazing set of faculty and students over the years, and together we’re tackling critical questions regarding the privacy and ethical implications of new technologies. Note: This website is not updated frequently but includes information and publication links for ongoing projects.

Recent News

June 2023: Vitak & Zimmer have a paper out in JCMC exploring attitudes toward workplace surveillance.

April  2023: Our qualitative study of power users’ approach to managing their smart home ecosystems was accepted to CSCW 2023 [pdf].

April 2023: Vitak and Zimmer (along with Yaxing Yao & Danny Huang) were awarded a $600k grant from NSF to study privacy mitigations in smart environments.

March 2023: “When research is the context: Cross-platform user expectations for social media data reuse” was published in Big Data & Society.

March 2023: “Power, stress, and uncertainty: Experiences with and attitudes toward workplace surveillance during a pandemic” was published in Surveillance & Society.

March 2023: Vitak & Shilton shared recent PERVADE work on “The Discussion Section” podcast.

Jan 2023: Vitak gave the keynote at a Privacy Day event at Maquette University (“Reimagining Data Collection and Use in the Age of Smart Devices”).

Jan 2023: “When Do Data Collection and Use Become a Matter of Concern? A Cross-Cultural Comparison of U.S. and Dutch Privacy Attitudes” was published in IJoC.

Dec 2022: Vitak gave the closing keynote at the MD Tech Connect conference (“School and Library Programming to Teach Children Basic Privacy and Security Concepts”).