CoLab Students Launch ‘Privacy Helper Project’

Posted December 8, 2021

A team of undergraduate students in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication (LMC)’s Creative/Career Origination Lab, or CoLab, has launched the Privacy Helper Project. This effort aims to educate the Georgia Tech community on better protecting themselves online.

“Online privacy is a topic that [people] know is important but often overlook,” said Sungeun “Harry” Bae, a computational media major and designer for the project. “Through this site, we wanted to help the Georgia Tech community be more aware of some of the most common online privacy mistakes that people make, especially on a social media platform like Instagram.”

Bae and Selena Do, a computational media major and surveyor/researcher for the project, were the team’s primary leaders. The remaining team members are Sarah Engel, Bontu Gelan, and Nethra Rammohan, who are all majoring in literature, media, and communication. They assisted with research, testing, communication, outreach, and writing.

Jillann Hertel, senior academic professional and CoLab director, led the team as faculty advisor.

“I initially thought of the concept for what became the Privacy Helper Project while contemplating both internet privacy concerns and well-being in relation to our roles as media makers, ambassadors, creatives, scholars, teachers, and students,” said Hertel. “I thought about how the ‘terms and conditions' are usually a long scroll of legalese that people tend to just fly by and then hit accept. My goal became to initiate and guide a project with students that synthesizes some easy-to-achieve safeguards that people just might utilize if they are communicated in an easily digestible and actionable way.”

As part of the project, the students conducted an informal survey assessing Georgia Tech students’ awareness of privacy regulations on Instagram. The survey results are displayed on the Privacy Helper Project website and show significant gaps in knowledge related to the Instagram Data Policy. For example, according to the survey, “over 69% of respondents were unaware that Instagram automatically uses facial recognition to identify users in photos, videos, and camera experience.”

“The survey results were one of the most interesting aspects for me since I’m personally invested in user behaviors,” said Do. “They can usually reveal a lot about the way people think and behave, which is useful to us as we try and understand how to make the project more impactful to them. I also loved how the research and survey results of people’s behaviors facilitated our design.”

The website also features a video tutorial showing ways to protect your privacy on Instagram.

An additional facet of the project is the Password Tester, which gauges an inputted password’s strengths without storing any password information. The tester’s JavaScript code, written by Bae, reads the typed password and checks to determine if it is strong or weak. The checker considers a password stronger if it has more than eight characters, includes at least one capital letter, one lowercase letter, one special character, and numbers. However, the tester does not determine password strength based on the specific characters in the password, so some caution should be taken when using it. (Security experts advise against using common dictionary words as passwords, for instance.)

Although the collaborative project was created as part of the coursework in the LMC 3813 Design for Community, it has the potential to continue expanding its features and scope beyond the semester via future classes, CoLab teams, or both.

“This is an easy-to-try tool for people to understand better how to create some initial safeguards in their behaviors and better protect their data,” said Hertel. “The intention is that this project is one that can build. We initially narrowed the scope to bettering privacy on Instagram and passwords. Still, there are many other interrelated ideas which we can expand in the topic and with other students in future semesters.”

The Creative/Career Origination Lab, or CoLab, is a center in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication. It gives students space and support to grow as creators, develop their skills, and prepare and explore career possibilities.

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Cassidy Chreene Whittle
Communications Officer
School of Literature, Media, and Communication | School of Modern Languages