SBU Research Team Develops Private Digital Assistance App

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Researchers from the Department of Computer Science at Stony Brook University developed a digital assistant app that does not compromise privacy and answers the question, how can we provide personalized news recommendations without sharing sensitive data with the provider?

Aruna Balasubramanian

Aruna Balasubramanian

Digital personal assistants have the ability to gear the content of an app or service to your specific likes and dislikes, such as Google News. However, they need a lot of sensitive data about you to be effective. Assistant Professors Aruna Balasubramanian and Niranjan Balasubramanian, along with former graduate students Shashank Jain (Microsoft) and Vivek Tiwari (LinkedIn), developed an app that can deliver personalized recommendations for news articles without collecting and sending sensitive user data to a cloud service.

The new app, PrIA (Private Intelligent Assistant), maintains your privacy by not using remote servers to organize a personal user profile, but instead does so locally on your smartphone and laptop. This ensures that personal information is kept private.

Niranjan Balasubramanian

Niranjan Balasubramanian

The research team conducted a ten-day study of their application and found that Google News, which uses private user data and is a comparable cloud-based service, was only 14% better at suggesting news articles to its users. According to Niranjan Balasubramanian, for privacy-minded users this may be a worthy trade-off. PrIA downloads stories from Google News, but does so without signing into a Google account or sending user’s information elsewhere.

“The important thing is, only your phone and your laptop have this information,” said Aruna Balasubramanian.

An article about the application was published in the MIT Technology Review, one of the premier and most prestigious publications for tech research. The paper, which was co-authored by Supriyo Chakaraborthy from IBM Research, was presented at the 18th Annual International Workshop on Mobile Computing Systems and Applications in Sonoma, California.

About the CS Researchers
Aruna and Niranjan Balasubramanian are faculty in the Department of Computer Science within the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University. Aruna’s research takes place in her NetSYS Lab, which focuses on networking and mobile computing systems. Niranjan, who is also affiliated with the Department of Biomedical Informatics and the Center of Excellence in Wireless & Information Technology (CEWIT), explores natural language processing and information retrieval. Both researchers earned their PhD from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and joined Stony Brook in 2015.

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