Dissertation Topic

Maintaining good cyber-hygiene is essential for mitigating threats to information security. However, for some older adults, challenges can be faced doing this. The difficulties can be attributed in part to the lack of understanding of online privacy, which can lead to the unintentional distribution of personal information and vulnerability/susceptibility to attacks (e.g. targeted phishing threats). Evidence of a “privacy divide” has been identified, which may result in older age groups (i.e., those >65) being more vulnerable to online attacks compared to those aged 55-65.  In my research, I aim to better understand the perceptions and concerns of online privacy and their barriers and motivators using online privacy tools. By studying their experiences using online conferencing and communication tools, I aim to   formulate guidance to support older adults when accessing information, with a view to inform designers of the needs of this important demographic.

Proposed Study Design

In this section I describe my proposed study design and my plans towards completing my dissertation, including its expected contributions and a proposed timeline. The plan: 1) propose later this academic year, 2) finalize the list of prospective committee members, 3) effectively develop the research questions for the final study being proposed to use the methods and experience I have gained so far.

A two-step study design is proposed.  The first part will involve semi-structured interviews with a sample of older adults who self-identify as being forced to use technology to access services.  The interviews will cover questions related (but not limited) to the following: incidents where using online tools was the only option, which tools appeared safer to use than others, the security of online accounts used for these tools, concerns regarding the privacy of their online information and the use of webcams, whether users feel in control while using these tools, instructions and assistance available to support them in using these tools and resistance against using these tools. In this study, my specific interest lies in whether existing online tools cater to the complex needs and requirements of older adult users.  Subjects will be recruited from local senior centers, which attract older adults from diverse backgrounds with different levels of technical expertise.  A group of older adults who had prior experience using technology prior to the pandemic may also be recruited to compare findings with. Due to the onset of COVID-19 and lockdown requirements, emails may be sent out to certain learning groups in universities specific to older adults populations as a means of wider outreach.

The findings from the first study will be validated using a survey protocol.  The survey (either paper-based or telephone-based) will include Likert questions (informed through the first study’s observations) disseminated to a much larger sample of older adults to confirm key findings. For example, a survey question could be portrayed as: “How vulnerable would you say your private information is when using an online conferencing tool?”. Statistical tests will be conducted to confirm significance of hypotheses and effect sizes will also be calculated. The final list of findings will be narrated through the perspective of risk scenarios, offering examples of older adults’ visualized concerns. This could also help designers understand users’ complex needs when interacting with these tools. The contributions of this work could shine some light on the adoption criteria for older adults when faced with forced adoption of online tools which may be perceived to be unsafe or unsecure and how their perceptions change once adopted and used consistently.

Proposed Timeline

Spring 2021

Completed the Comprehensive Exam and Portfolio. Attended the iConference Doctoral Consortium 2021 to gain insight and advice on my doctoral dissertation proposal. Finalized the list of prospective committee members. Prepared dissertation proposal document. Gained IRB approval to begin data collection for the proposed study.

Summer 2022

1. Defend doctoral dissertation proposal.
2. Conduct semi-structured interviews at multiple Erickson Living sites for proposed study.

Fall 2021

1. Present published work in USENIX 2021 and PETS 2021.
2. Analyze data collected from the semi-structured interviews.

Spring 2022

1. Collect data through online surveys with questions formulated through findings from interview data.
2. Analyze data collected from the surveys.
3. Prepare dissertation defense document.

Summer 2022

Goal: Defend doctoral dissertation.