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CyLab's Alessandro Acquisti and Fellow CMU Researcher Christina Fong Win IAPP Privacy Law Scholars Conference Award

posted by Richard Power
October 13, 2012

CyLab researcher Alessandro Acquisti, an Associate Professor of Information Technology and Public Policy at the Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University had a busy week. He delivered keynote speeches in Europe, one at the first Amsterdam Privacy Conference and another at the European Union's Annual Privacy Forum, held in Cyprus this year, and then returned to the U.S. to receive a prestigious award which indicates that Acquisti who has already rocked the world of Privacy Protection a couple of times over, seems poised to do it again.

In 2009, Acquisti and co-author Ralph Gross, a post-doctoral researcher at CMU, showed that public information readily gleaned from governmental sources, commercial data bases, or online social networks can be used to routinely predict most — and sometimes all — of an individual’s nine-digit Social Security number. 

In 2011, Acquisti and his research team showed it was possible to identify strangers and gain their personal information – perhaps even their social security numbers -- by using face recognition software and social media profiles.

And now, in 2012, Acquisti and Christina Fong, Senior Research Scientist at CMU's Department of Social and Decision Sciences, have been honored as co-winners of the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) Privacy Law Scholars Conference Award. The announcement was made at the IAPP's Privacy Academy 2012, held in San Jose, California.

The ongoing research for which Acquisti and Fong have been recognized by IAPP looks into hiring discrimination patterns through the use of social networks by employers.

Using a two-pronged approach, Acquisti and Fong have utilized survey and field research to uncover current hiring practices in a Web 2.0 world, which suggest that regulatory frameworks are being outpaced by technological developments.  

"We started research for this quite a few years ago," said Acquisti, "when it was unclear whether or not employers had started using social media in general to screen candidates."

The design of their experiment has been complex, he notes, as it’s difficult to define how certain shared information impacts firms’ hiring decisions. As people continue to share vast amounts of personal data on social networking sites, and as laws governing what can be asked in job interviews remain unchanged, the temptation for employers to mine prospective candidates’ online profiles—off-the-record—will most likely continue.

It will be some time yet before the results of this study are released publicly, but now you can say you heard it here first, and don't be surprised, if as before, Acquisti's work will grab some headlines.

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