conferences trip report

Citizen Lab Summer Institute 2017 Trip Report

Posted on behalf of Mark Martinez

What conference did I go to?

I went to the Citizen Lab Summer Institute 2017 (CLSI) conference held by the eponymous Citizen Lab that brings together not only computer scientists, but any actor that works in the privacy and security field. I went to conduct interviews for a research project headed by Marshini Chetty and Philipp Winter. The link to the research project and its description can be found here: Tor Interview Project

It was this intersection of political scientists, computer scientists and political activists that made this conference so unique. To see so much of the impact that privacy technology makes made me realize how important the work in ensuring anonymity in certain circumstances is. One of the first people to speak at the conference talked about how some of her colleagues were jailed in a foreign nation because of the human rights work that they were doing. It hit home as to why it’s so important to actually make sure that when a person wishes to remain anonymous they can because it can be an actual matter of life and death.

Where was the conference held?

The conference is held yearly at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. It is held in the Citizen Lab which frequently publishes papers on privacy and security both in the industrial and government sector.

What were the three best talks I attended?

My favorite talk of the conference was the first talk that had each major party of the conference rise up and talk about what they are doing and who they are collaborating with. It was here that you got to see just how diverse the group of participants were. It seemed like there were actually no purely technical people: everybody worked on interesting and inter-disciplinary work. The work varied from human rights and combating censorship in nations to deconstructing applications that are widely used in some foreign countries and exposing major security flaws. The first day’s agenda and notes (as well as links to all talks) can be found at this link: Agenda and Notes

Another interesting talk was listening to how censorship affects multiple countries in different ways. Four people talked about how censorship affects diverse regions of the world like, Pakistan, Iran, Brazil and Latin America, and parts of Africa. These people talked about the work that they do to circumvent censorship like creating different ways for people to reach blocked websites such as by redirecting the traffic or even setting up satellite dishes that would allow people to obtain blocked information. One interesting note was that in the 2017 Iranian election there was no censorship of popular media because it was now the entire political spectrum that were using platforms like WhatsApp and not just younger liberal pockets of the populace. This talk’s information can be found here: WorldWide Censorship Notes

A very different talk that I attended was done in collaboration with Jason Li and Andrew Hilts. In this talk Jason took technical concepts from the crowd and within 10 minutes made them into comics. Jason took examples like phishing and Tor and made them into approachable and mildly humorous comics. Jason and Andrew went on to explain that one feature that the Citizen Lab performs is to take issues that are widely relevant to the public but that are easily lost in jargon and make them into comics. This talk’s information can be found here: Technical Problems into Comics

What was my favorite part of the conference?

The conference was an eye-opening experience. Although much of my time was spent doing interviews for the research study I was participating in, I was still able to see how much concrete impact is being made in the lives of people all over the world. Privacy and security is not just a matter of novelty or paranoia, but is something that is critical to the success of so many operations worldwide ranging from understanding what user agreements for apps are to protecting the lives of human rights activists that are under government scrutiny.


final public oral

Congratulations to Reid Oda for passing his final public oral (FPO)!

Congratulations to Reid Oda who presented his final public oral (FPO) yesterday on tools and techniques for rhythmic synchronization in networked music performance. Reid presented two tools: Global metronome for an absolute tempo synchronization for global music performance over the Internet (specifically for sequenced music) and MalLo, a new music instrument that predicts notes before they occur to allow for synchronized music performance. His work addresses the issue of Internet latency which causes tempo drag when musicians are trying to play music together online for live performance or “jam sessions”. He gave a great presentation and passed with flying colors!

Reid Oda's final public oral
Reid Oda’s final public oral

BEAMing into CHI 2017

The Princeton HCI group enjoyed the CHI 2017 conference in Denver, Colorado two weeks ago. Katie and Janet attended in person and Marshini BEAMed in to attend via Telepresence. Here’s what Marshini had to say about telepresence:

It was really exciting to sign up last-minute to attend the CHI conference via telepresence. I attended Ben Schneiderman’s plenary talk on Tuesday, networked and attended several talk sessions on that day, and was fortunate to attend the conference and watch our collaborators Victoria Chang and Pramod Chundury present our CHI 2017 paper on Drones, Privacy, and Security late on Thursday. Here are my quick thoughts on using the BEAM!

The pros:

  • Navigation: The BEAM was extremely easy to navigate and move around without bumping into objects or people. There are two cameras – a forward facing camera to allow you to see a fish eye view of what’s in front of you and to the periphery of your vision and then a camera facing downward towards the wheels. The downward facing camera allows you to see where you’re rolling the BEAM and helps with avoiding objects, treading on toes, and general navigation. I operated the BEAM from my mobile phone using my fingers and from my desktop using my mouse. The desktop experience was far superior because of the larger screen and I preferred the control of my mouse over my finger but both modes were very easy.
  • Networking: The best part of using the BEAM was feeling present at the conference and meeting up with colleagues and friends (old and new) as if I was there. I found the face to face interaction with others almost as good as being there in person since the BEAM moving around and general shape appeared to lend me a physical presence that made others feel more comfortable to interact with me. This stands in contrast to my experiences with attending events via teleconference alone. I “bumped” into and reconnected with several colleagues and met a few new faces, many of which followed up with me post-conference as would typically occur with in person attendance.  Since the screen on the BEAM is so large, it was easy for others to recognize me and I also added my name and affiliation in a status tag to be more easily recognizable in lieu of a conference badge. I also felt post-conference as if I had attended CHI which again was not something I expected – rolling around the venue gave me a good sense of what it was like being there in the venue – I even learned my way around by the third day of using the BEAM.
  • Talks: It was great to feel present at the talks I attended and to interact with attendees. I usually found a spot near the front of the room to get the best possible view and I even watched another talk given remotely by telepresence (Evan Golub from Human Computer Interaction Laboratory) about telepresence which was fun and somewhat unusual.
  • Teleconference support, chairs, and student volunteers: From the minute I signed up for telepresence, the support was amazing. The chairs ensured that the process of learning how to use the BEAM was smooth and help was always just a few seconds or minutes away. Without the volunteers and support, it would have been difficult to navigate the entire conference venue with elevators and places with sporadic connectivity but the telepresence team with its accompanying Slack channel was key!
  • CHI and normal life intermingled: It was great to be able to attend sessions, pop out in Princeton for lunch, and take care of meetings on the days I chose not to attend,. This intermingling of conference days with day-to-day life would not have been possible without telepresence. Also, it was great to cut out the hassles of travel – flights, hotels, and taxis while still getting value out of the conference.

The cons:

  • Cost: While I knew what I was getting myself in for by being forewarned of the costs of using the BEAM, I did feel being charged the full conference fee was probably not fair for the experience. After all, I did require quite a bit of assistance from student volunteers to get me from floor to floor, I could not take advantage of the conference food (what is a conference without snacks!), and telepresence is still not the same as being there in person.
  • Talks: Despite being able to attend talks, I lost out on important information. For instance, I found that even if I zoomed into the slides, I could not quite clearly see them so it would have been more helpful if there were slides available for the talk session ahead of time. If I zoomed into the speaker instead, that was marginally better but often the sound quality varied depending on the room, with some rooms offering better sound and others not as much. Also, when zooming in, I lost the context of the room and could not tell who was coming into the room or coming close to me which was at times unnerving (Were people watching my enlarged face on my BEAM?).
  • Sitting in one place: On Thursday in particular, I attended several sessions in a row and I did find myself becoming tired of sitting at my desktop. This is a peril of remote attendance in general even via teleconference but it would have been nice to be more active during the attendance (time for a standing desk with a treadmill perhaps?).

Overall, I had a great time with telepresence and I would consider using it again if the circumstances required it.

usable security

Drones on Sexton field

Students in the COS Independent Work Seminar entitled “These Aren’t The Drones You Are Looking For: Mitigating the Privacy and Security Implications of Drones” left the classroom to get out and about on Sexton field on a beautiful spring morning. The order of the day was to test out a host of Parrot AR Drones in an open flying environment.

Students also worked on testing out their semester-long individual projects involving actions such as controlling the drone with a keyboard, pinging a drone to get its identity, and tracking a drone using a lightweight Android phone mounted to the drone.

Check out pictures of the class outing here.

usable security

Drones, Privacy, and Security at CHI 2017

We describe a few highlights from our recent paper on drones that will be presented at the 2017 CHI conference.

What did we do?: To better inform policy and regulations around drones, we chose to investigate what users’ current perceptions are of privacy and security issues around drones. We conducted an experimental study with 20 laypersons in Maryland, USA with users who had never seen or interacted with a drone before.

How did we do it?: The experiment took place indoors in a laboratory at the Human Computer Interaction Laboratory at the University of Maryland, College Park. Each participant had a pre-interview asking them about their general perceptions and mental models of drones. Participants were then shown a real drone or model drone and given the opportunity to see the researchers control the drone and to fly the drone on their own. Following the demonstration and a series of tasks that included showing users the footage that drones collect and store, participants had an exit interview to discuss their final thoughts on drones, privacy, and security.

What did we find?: Compared to previous studies, 1) we found that users had many more negative perceptions of drones and how they affect their personal privacy and security. For instance, participants were worried drones could injure people and that they could be used for spying on others. Users were particularly concerned about having multiple drones in an area and keeping drones away from people and private spaces like schools, government institutions, or private residences. 2) We found that a drone’s design affected participants sense of privacy and security. For instance the sound of a drone made it seem threatening but at the same time, the noise alerted participants to the presence of the drone which was considered a privacy enhancer.

What are the implications of the work?: Our work suggested that 1) there needs to be better regulations to deal with cases where there are multiple drones in an area and to mandate geo-fencing technologies either in drones themselves, or to develop other geo-fencing mechanisms that can be implemented by those who might encounter drones using existing infrastructures such as home wireless networks. Geo-fencing could enhance privacy by keeping drones away from private spaces and making people feel more secure about being “safe” from drones in these spaces.

2) We suggested that further exploration is needed to see if it is possible to have drones operate in designated spaces or “drone highways” to keep them at a distance from people to protect privacy, be easily identifiable, and prevent injury. Finally, 3) we recommend that drone designers think about how to create designs that make drones more friendly or less so depending on whether or not people should interact with them using both visual and non-visual markers such as sound.

Read the CHI 2017 paper for more details and contact us for copies of supplementary materials such as interview guides.