24 June 2022

Meta Research PhD Fellowship Spotlight: Empowering older adults and combating bias in tech development

By: Meta Research

Each year, PhD students from around the world apply for the Meta Research PhD Fellowship, a program designed to encourage and support promising doctoral students who are engaged in innovative and relevant research related to computer science and engineering. Fellowship recipients receive tuition funding for up to two years to conduct their research at their respective universities, independently of Meta.

As a continuation of our Fellowship spotlight series, we’re highlighting a 2021 Meta PhD Fellow in Human-Centered Computing, Reza Ghaiumy Anaraky.

Reza is a PhD candidate in the Human-Centered Computing Division within the School of Computing at Clemson University, advised by Bart Knijnenburg. His research aims to identify novel solutions for digital privacy issues, such as personal data collection. In particular, he aspires to empower underrepresented groups to manage their online privacy.

Reza’s passion for human-computer interaction (HCI) began with a lifelong fascination with human decision-making. After following the careers of Meta researchers, Reza applied to the Meta PhD Fellowship to pursue his research. When choosing his projects, he considers not only his research interests but also the urgency of the issues and their broader societal impacts.

“My goal is to help everyone benefit from technology,” says Reza. “For instance, older adults are rarely considered in technology’s design and development stages. Therefore, current technology products are not older-adult-friendly. I’m studying older adults’ technology use to provide design suggestions that can improve products for this population.”

Demographics play a pivotal role in how Reza makes design recommendations. “The way people approach data privacy may differ based on their demographic,” he explains. “My research shows that many older adults are very attentive to their privacy. For example, they may be willing to disclose their data for personalization only if the apps communicate disclosure benefits clearly. Understanding these patterns can help technology providers tailor their products to the older adult population.”

Much of Reza’s work directly applies to social media platforms, which is one reason he gravitated to the Meta PhD Fellowship. In another example of inclusive design, he explores how cultural perceptions around data sensitivity should inform a platform’s information architecture. “People in the U.S. view their demographic information and relationship status as their ‘public profile,’ while their contact information is more private to them. However, people from China and South Korea view their demographics and contact information as their ‘public profile’ and consider their relationship status to be more private.” Reza explains, “Understanding these differences is very important when you want to design a social media platform shared across different cultures.”

When it comes to design, Reza is passionate about leveraging tech to combat racial and gender biases. Until technology is studied and developed differently, he believes its benefits will remain exclusive. “If we are inclusive in all stages of research, design, and development, our technology will also be inclusive.”

Reza has published more than 25 research articles. His work has received several academic and institutional awards, including three “best paper” awards, an outstanding PhD student award (2021), and Mather’s Innovative Research on Aging Award (2020). He points to the Meta PhD Fellowship as one of his highest achievements. Following the fellowship, he aspires to pursue a career in academia, which will allow him to research industry applications and continue serving as a mentor.

“If you want to have a good influence, do something big for at least a small group of people, or a small thing for a big group of people,” says Reza. He applies this mentality to the projects he researches, the products he shapes, and the mentees he supports.

To learn about Reza and his research, visit his profile. For more information on award details and eligibility, visit the program page.