Engineers from the University of Florida (UF) are leading an effort to understand how groups like people with disabilities, those with a low socioeconomic status, children and the elderly are marginalized by current technologies like smartphones and video conferencing and how current and future technologies can be designed to be more inclusive and secure.

The research, funded by a $7.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will focus on changing the fundamental approach to security and privacy in computing so these communities are considered the norm rather than the exception, or worse, an afterthought, said Kevin Butler, the project's Principal Investigator and Professor in UF’s Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE).

“Computing systems and services have become ubiquitous in modern society and are deeply embedded in people’s daily lives,” said Butler. “As practices and technologies for ensuring security and privacy of computing systems emerge in this rapidly changing technological landscape, the needs of marginalized and vulnerable populations have been largely unaddressed, as have the consequences of their exclusion.”

Collaborator Kurt Hugenberg, Professor of Psychological and Brain sciences at Indiana University, said “designers often have assumptions about who they are designing for — a so-called ‘default persona,’ which are essentially stereotypes about who the ’typical’ user is. This default persona often includes the majority population or privileged individuals and thus can often overlook the needs and capabilities of marginalized and vulnerable users.”

The project is part of NSF’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace Frontiers program. For more information, click here.