Clemson professor aims to create new system to track social media activity

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CLEMSON, S.C. (WSPA) – Researchers at Clemson University are hoping to pull back the veil on the mystery of how social media platforms are tracking your activity.

Dr. Bart Knijnenburg, professor at the School of Computing at Clemson University, is working with social media platforms such as Facebook to create new systems that shows users ads that help them discover their own preferences.

“Everybody wants to be private but everyone also wants to be online. Rather than try to strive for complete privacy we need to find a way to be smart about it,” Knijnenburg said.

Rather than tracking behaviors when users click on gimmicky items they don’t really need, such as funny t-shirts or other products, users would benefit from ads that are more helpful.

Dr. Knijnenburg spent years researching the principles of human-computer interaction on social media platforms.

He said it’s unrealistic to expect complete privacy on a free social media platform but said one way users can limit intrusive advertisements is to learn how to navigate and adjust their privacy settings.

“The way I want to solve this problem to some extent is to help people discover their own preferences,” Knijnenburg said, “Help them figure out ‘What is it that I’m interested in? What is it that excites me?”

Dr. Knijnenburg said he’s working to create a system that recommends privacy settings to users—- similar to how platforms recommend advertisements for products—- to get a feel for users’ boundaries and privacy preferences.

“It’s a way to understand what users are comfortable with in terms of how they’re tracked and how their information is being used. The system will set their privacy settings in a way that matches those preferences,” Knijnenburg said.

Dr. Knijnenburg expects to put his new preference-based system in action this summer by helping children at Camp iRock in Pickens County discover their own book preferences.

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