Build and disseminate a new framework for privacy-enhancing technologies and data security standards commensurate with the task of managing and protecting privacy in blockchain-based technologies, the metaverse, and other emergent environments.
<aside> 💡 Caveat (you are welcome and needed here!): This is 10000% not a project that is only for engineers and cryptographers. I’m neither. Privacy is a citizen issue. It’s a legal and compliance challenge, a game-theoretic coordination challenge, an ethics challenge, an education and awareness challenge, and a policy challenge as much as it is a technical quandary. So please, if you care about building human-first tech and don’t want a Cambridge Analytica redux, we need writers, interviewers, organizers, coordinators, educators, and planners ****as well as engineers, cryptographers, and privacy researchers.
I am a privacy researcher at UT Austin and I study concealed influence, self-sovereignty, and cognitive consent in digital spaces.
I believe that everything is downstream from sovereignty. Unless we build products founded on strong consent-based frameworks, we will continue the trend toward adversarial UI, engagement-driven polarization, and centralized, extractive business models.
<aside> 💡 The focus of my research: to develop an open, interoperable, and widely accepted set of privacy standards for emergent digital environments (including the open metaverse) that prioritizes user confidentiality, sovereignty, autonomy, and agency.
This is not an exercise in purely philosophical thinking. We are building something tangible that is rooted in product design, empirical observations, and cryptographic research as well as technohuman ethics.
The world does not need another essay pontificating on privacy and why we need it. (Establishing foundational necessity is much of what I’m doing in grad school anyway.)
Lots of people can knock out a fancy essay bemoaning the pitfalls of our gadgets and gizmos and get everyone on Twitter nodding along in social approbation. Hear ye! Hear ye! A smart person hath spake! Let us retweet in genuflection!
It is much harder work to build something workable and actually get people to adopt it. Crafting solutions is always harder than criticizing the status quo, but it is the only thing that ever changes the world. So, while we need a strong why/call to action, the harder work is building the what and making it workable and widely accepted.
For wide adoption by the engineering community, we need to draft a solution framework that is in part built by the engineering community. The ownership of such an artifact must lie with the builders as well much as with the visionaries. To accomplish this, we must work directly with protocols, games, identity management tools, decentralized identity providers, and cryptographic solutions such as ZK-SNARKS and rollups.
“I can safely say that we in tech don’t understand the emotional aspect of our work, just as we don’t understand the moral imperative of what we do. It is not that all players are bad; it is just not part of the thinking process the way, say, ‘minimum viable product’ or ‘growth hacking’ are.” - Om Malik, via Questions Concerning Technology
Let’s make moral imperatives and real-world outcomes a part of the technologist’s thinking process.