As an economist and policymaker, Anindya Sen has always been fascinated by the concept of ‘choice’.
This fascination became fundamental to his primary research interests, continually asking, “Why do consumers make certain choices? What was their decision-making process?” For example, Sen often noticed that many consumers were willing to give up private information to gain access to a product, such as mobile apps. Many mobile services ask if they can install cookies, which can track personal information. Major websites such as Google and Facebook often sell users’ personal information to advertisers. What intrigued Sen the most was that people often resisted sharing information with the government but were extremely willing to share sensitive information with the entities on the web in consumer interactions. Sen started to research more about the lengths consumers would go to give up their privacy and information in these interactions. He hopes to create policies where consumers have rights to the data that they share online, and whether they should receive a return for products where their data was used to create them.
We're becoming a digital society, [that is being] governed by web interactions [and] apps.
From there, Sen became acquainted with the field of cybersecurity and privacy. While working as the director for UWaterloo’s Masters of Public Service program, he was recommended to join CPI due to their research opportunities. As one of CPI’s researchers, he focuses on data science, security and privacy, as well as the human and societal aspects of security and privacy. In late 2020, he organized a conference on privacy and data collection through contract tracing apps, which CPI co-sponsored.
Prof. Sen has since become the new Associate Director of CPI.
Sen has been teaching at UWaterloo since 1998. One of the aspects Sen enjoys most about Waterloo is its growing diversity. As well, he enjoys its vibe of “hunger for success, innovation, and entrepreneurship”, he feels that it permeates everywhere. “It's in the city and the university”. He believes CPI can play a significant role in Waterloo’s innovative culture by showing how CPI’s research can significantly enhance technology and its implementation, and how people interact with it. Moreover, he hopes CPI can help foster a cybersecurity ecosystem within Waterloo. Unfortunately, many people do not realize how much information they reveal to the web. This is dangerous as hackers can easily harm someone, for example, by finding their financial details or home alarm information. By bringing in CPI’s researchers from various faculties such as engineering to social sciences, he hopes to inform Waterloo staff and students about these risks to better protect their privacy.
As the new Associate Director, he wants to encourage students to seek research opportunities within the cybersecurity and privacy field. Since “we're becoming a digital society, [that is being] governed by web interactions [and] apps”, these are therefore significant issues that must be studied. Some issues include consumers’ data rights and ethical information collection by businesses. Under this scope, he hopes to include researchers of all faculties, not just STEM. By encouraging these opportunities, we can help create and support this new cybersecurity ecosystem.
Sen hopes that within the next 5 years, CPI can advise the federal government on the best policies for cybersecurity and privacy, such as educating citizens about the benefits and consequences of becoming a digital society and how to make the best decisions. Most importantly, he wants to ensure certain members of society are not excluded. He mentions how his parents, who are in their 80s, often struggle with using apps to access vaccine passports or restaurants throughout the pandemic. His experience indicates that cybersecurity and policy information should be accessible to the general public. Overall, he hopes CPI can bring empathy and compassion within this digital divide.
Congratulations to Anindya Sen, we wish you all the best in this position!