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Yan Shvartzshnaider, Lassonde School of Engineering Professor, receives Lee Dirks Award at iConference 2021

York University Assistant Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Dr. Yan Shvartzshnaider, has received the Lee Dirks Award at the annual iConference.  

This award is presented to the authors of the best full research paper at the multidisciplinary forum where information scholars, researchers and professionals share their insights on critical information issues in contemporary society.  

Dr. Shvartzshnaider’s award-winning paper, “Data and Privacy in a Quasi-Public Space: Disney World as a Smart City” was co-authored while at his prior institution, New York University, with Dr. Madelyn Rose Sanfilippo of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

The work uses Walt Disney Word as a case study to explore governance and privacy challenges associated with operation of a ‘smart’ city. This stems from Walt Disney World’s approach to employ tracking technologies, which can assess location monitoring, facial recognition and biometrics to improve the consumer experience and support commercial operations.  

The central tenant of the paper focuses on understanding the challenges and privacy implications of these data handling practices. 

“We use Contextual Integrity and Governing Knowledge Commons frameworks to empirically analyze cross-context data integration, data collection and processing, social perceptions of privacy practices. Our analysis shows the extent WDW’s data collection strategies contrast with normative customer expectations; corporate values; data collection and sharing practices,” commented Dr. Shvartzshnaider. 

The paper recommends that ‘smart’ cities should engage all stakeholders, explore feedback and develop evaluation mechanisms to reflect local values and norms.  

The implications of this work are wide-reaching and although governance and privacy challenges are contextual, the findings may be applicable to cities and public spaces across the globe that are moving to adopt ‘smart’ technology.  

Professor Yan Shvartzshnaider

In Toronto, for example, projects such as Sidewalk Toronto have started to explore this technology. Within their paper, Dr. Shvartzshnaider and Dr. Sanfilippo consider what can be learned about privacy, surveillance and innovation for other public applications, stressing the limitations of and potential social harms from Walt Disney World as a model for public services.  

About the Lee Dirks Award 

The Lee Dirks Award has been presented at the conference since 2013 and is named in honour of long-time friend and supporter of iConference, Lee Dirks. Previous winners of the award can be found online

About Yan Shvartzshnaider and the Privacy Rhythm Research Lab 

After joining York University in January 2021 as Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Dr. Shvartzshnaider has established the Privacy Rhythm Research Lab. The group develops methodologies and privacy-enhancing tools to help incorporate a socially meaningful conception of privacy that meets peoples’ expectations and is ethically defensible.  

Students and colleagues interested in working with Dr. Shvartzshnaider are welcome to contact him for available opportunities. Broad research interests of the laboratory include: 

  • Usable privacy 
  • Sociotechnical systems 
  • Contextual Integrity: Theory and Applications 
  • Information Technology Policy 

The full paper, “Data and Privacy in a Quasi-Public Space: Disney World as a Smart City is published in Lecture Notes in Computer Science, and can be accessed online

Other work from Dr. Shvartzshnaider include:  

  • Disaster Privacy/Privacy Disaster, published in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology in 2020. Available online
  • Going Against the (Appropriate) Flow: A Contextual Integrity Approach to Privacy Policy Analysis. Published in proceedings of the Seventh AAAI Conference on Human Computation and Crowdsourcing in 2019. Available online

This article also appeared in YFile.