University of Maryland

Research Projects

Below are brief descriptions of the main projects the lab is working on.

Since 2016, Vitak, Chetty, Clegg, and Kumar have been working on a Google-funded project to develop resources to help teachers, parents, and elementary school-aged children better understand privacy and security concepts. In 2020, they were awarded a NSF SaTC EDU grant more the project. Project website: https://spe4k.umd.edu

Vitak and Zimmer were awarded a small grant by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in August 2020 to explore the impact of COVID-19 on workplace surveillance practices. In November 2020 they surveyed 650 American office workers about how their job has changed since working from home and their attitudes toward various surveillance practices. See the announcement here.

In 2017, Shilton, Vitak, Zimmer, and four other PIs were awarded an NSF Large grant to study the ethical issues raised from the increasing availability and ease of access of large troves of digital data about people. This builds on prior survey studies by Shilton and Vitak on attitudes and behaviors large large-scale data collection by researchers and IRBs. Project website: https://pervade.umd.edu

Bus on city street.

Vitak and PhD student Sunyup Park joined a project being led by iSchool faculty member Vanessa Frias-Martinez in 2020. The project is being funded by NSF’s Smart & Connected Communities (SCC) initiative, and will focus on developing privacy-protective tools for residents in Baltimore City, with a special focus on low-income residents who are heavily reliant on the city’s public transit options. Read the press release here. Project website: https://balto.umd.edu

Starting in August 2019, Vitak began a new project expanding on the mobile privacy & surveillance grant to look at the privacy risks of peer-to-peer financial apps like Venmo that include a social awareness stream. The project is collecting survey and interview data from young people about their use of the app and whether they believe Venmo generates any new risks to their personal data.

Archived / Completed Projects

The following projects and grants have ended as of 2021.

Mega Subramaniam (UMD) and Vitak were awarded an IMLS grant in fall 2016 to develop resources for librarians and the economically disadvantaged families they serve. They have partnered with four libraries across the state of Maryland to develop and pilot these resources. In 2021, they completed the grand and launched Safe Data | Safe Families (https://safedata.umd.edu), including resources for library staff (training, privacy policy framework) and families (games, handouts).

Michael Zimmer (UW-Milwaukee) and Vitak were awarded a NSF EAGER in 2016 for a collaborative project with the Netherlands on mobile privacy and surveillance. During the first stage of data collection, they focused on fitness apps (in the US) and mobile messaging (in the Netherlands). In the second stage, both teams looked at intelligent personal assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Project website: https://mobileprivacy.umd.edu

In 2016-2017, Vitak partnered with two Baltimore high schools to collect pilot data for a study examining how privacy and disclosure norms evolve during late adolescence.  Read More

  • News

    July 2021: Vitak (along with Sarah Gilbert and Katie Shilton) published “Measuring Americans’ Comfort With Research Uses of Their Social Media Data” in the journal Social Media + Society.

    June 2021: Vitak and Zimmer had an extended abstract summarizing their workplace surveillance & COVID-19 work accepted to AoIR 2021.

    October 2020: Vitak and Zimmer published a study in First Monday on privacy concerns associated with the adoption of contact tracing apps.

    August 2020: Vitak & Zimmer were awarded a Rapid Response grant from SSRC to study how workplace surveillance is evolving due to COVID-19.

    January 2020: Vitak, Clegg, and Chetty were awarded a NSF Small grant for their work on developing privacy & security curriculum for elementary school children.

    May 2019: PhD student Kumar presented research from our kids’ safety project at CHI. The paper discusses how educators consider privacy and security when using digital technologies in the classroom. More info is here.

    March 2019: We won the Lee Dirks Award for Best Full Paper at the iConference! PhD student Liao was the lead author on the paper presenting survey results from our IPA study.