CyLab paper receives Privacy Papers for Policymakers Award

The paper captured people’s privacy expectations and preferences in the age of video analytics.

Daniel Tkacik

Jan 20, 2022

A paper written by CyLab researchers about people’s perceptions of advanced video analytics has been selected to receive the prestigious Future of Privacy Forum’s annual Privacy Papers for Policymakers Award. The paper is one of six to receive the Award and be identified as “must-read” privacy papers of the year for policy makers by the selection committee.

The paper titled “‘Did you know this camera tracks your mood? Understanding Privacy Expectations and Preferences in the Age of Video Analytics,” was originally published and presented at the 2021 Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium this past summer by CyLab’s Aerin Zhang, a Ph.D. student in CMU’s School of Computer Science.

“Cameras are everywhere and increasingly coupled with video analytics software that can identify our faces, record attendance at events, track our moods, and more,” says Zhang. “The rapid deployment of video analytics across ever more diverse contexts calls for a better understanding of how people feel about these deployments, including their expectations to be notified about and to be able to exercise control over associated data practices.”

In the paper, Zhang and her co-authors present results from a study designed to capture people’s privacy expectations and preferences when confronted to a diverse set of realistic video analytics deployments as part of their regular daily activities. This included evaluating to what extent people expect these deployments in different contexts, how they feel about them, and how they would want to possibly be notified about them, and what privacy choices they might possibly want to have such as the ability to restrict the collection and use of their footage.

“People generally did not realize that video analytics could be used for such a diverse set of purposes at such a diverse set of venues and how powerful the technology can be,” Zhang said. “Our study also shows that people’s privacy expectations and preferences are diverse too and vary significantly across different deployment scenarios.”

Yuanyuan Feng, a co-author of the paper who was a postdoctoral researcher in CMU’s SCS at the time of the paper’s writing, says that their study is the first to capture participants’ responses to a wide range of realistic video analytics deployments in the context of their daily lives.

“Over the span of 10 days, we gathered over 2,000 detailed responses to different video analytics deployment scenarios from over 120 participants,” says Feng.

CyLab’s Norman Sadeh, the study’s principal investigator and a professor in CMU’s SCS, says the state of the art today involves notifying data subjects by merely placing signs that read “this area is under camera surveillance.”

“This clearly falls short,” says Sadeh. “It falls short of disclosing a lot of information that matters to people and does not provide them with any practical form of control over the collection and use of their footage, as mandated by regulations such as GDPR or CCPA/CPRA under at least some contexts.”

The authors found that while many—though not all—people seem to have grown accustomed to the deployment of some video surveillance technologies, many express surprise and a desire to be informed about and exercise some control over more recent types of deployments, such as deployments to measure productivity in the workplace, deployments geared towards marketing or attendance tracking purposes, or video analytics capable of making inferences about someone’s health, including mental health.

Figure 3 from the award-winning paper

Source: CyLab

Summary of collected responses organized around 16 different purposes. The bottom row shows the aggregated preferences across different purposes.

The paper ends with a discussion of the implications of these findings in terms of deploying more effective mechanisms for notice and choice around video analytics.

“We advocate for the development of interfaces that simplify the task of managing notices and configuring controls,” says Sadeh. “The development of such interfaces would however require the adoption of standards for notification and for people to communicate their opt-in/opt-out choices to video analytics operators, something that in turn would likely require new regulation.”

The Privacy Papers for Policymakers Award recognizes leading privacy scholarship that is relevant to policymakers in the United States Congress, at U.S. federal agencies, and for data protection authorities abroad.

Winning authors will be invited to present their work at an annual event with top policymakers and privacy leaders to take place in February 2022. For instance, last year’s 11th Annual Privacy Papers for Policy Makers included a keynote from acting Acting FTC Chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter. Honorary Co-Hosts included Senator Edward Markey and Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Privacy Caucus. 

The research reported in this paper was conducted as part of the Personalized Privacy Assistant Project, including work on a Privacy Infrastructure for the Internet of Things ( and This work was funded under National Science Foundation grants and a DARPA Brandeis privacy research grant.

Paper reference

“Did you know this camera tracks your mood?”: Understanding Privacy Expectations and Preferences in the Age of Video Analytics

  • Shikun “Aerin” Zhang, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Yuanyuan Feng, Carnegie Mellon University (now at the University of Vermont)
  • Anupam Das, NC State (formerly Carnegie Mellon University)
  • Lujo Bauer, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Lorrie Cranor, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Norman Sadeh, Carnegie Mellon University