Abbas Razaghpanah’s Privacy Research Reveals Tracking Users is Fair Game


This past spring, computer science PhD candidate Abbas Razaghpanah gained plenty of national attention for his research involving privacy and security on smartphone applications and on the internet.

The buzz began with Razaghpanah’s Network and Distributed System Security symposium paper (NDSS 2018) which found that seven out of 10 mobile apps track users without their knowledge, and that all of the top-10 organizations that own mobile tracking and advertising services either allow sharing of tracking data with their third-party partners or other services within the same company.

His research also found that 581 Android apps were sharing Wi-Fi access point names and MAC addresses, potentially using the information to cross-reference with public databases and to pinpoint people’s locations.

“I use network measurements to study different aspects of the mobile internet and mobile apps such as their performance, privacy, and security,” Razaghpanah said.

Razaghpanah has worked with researchers from UC Berkeley and IMDEA Networks, creating a mobile app called Lumen. Lumen is a privacy app that helps users understand the privacy cost of using mobile apps and can get anonymous data about mobile apps that helps him and other researchers study mobile apps at scale. Lumen is funded by the National Science Foundation, Data Transparency Lab and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Fund.

Data from Lumen has helped Razaghpanah conduct studies that have provided an unprecedented view of the world of mobile advertising and tracking industry, and revealed potential violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by mobile apps that target children.

Razaghpanah’s work has recently been featured on NBC News and BuzzFeed. The paper on COPPA violations was published in the Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Tools Symposium, and it was covered by The Guardian, The Verge, Washington Post, CNET, Fox News, The Inquirer and New York Post.

“It is a great feeling for any researcher to be recognized for their research work,” he said. “Personally, I hope that media coverage of our work raises awareness about the issue of privacy in the mobile age and brings the much-needed element of empirical study to inform the public conversation about addressing it.”


About the Researcher:

Razaghpanah works as a research assistant under the supervision of Dr. Phillipa Gill and Dr. Narseo Vallina-Rodriguez. He has been part of Stony Brook University’s Department of Computer Science since 2013 after attending Tehran Polytechnic. In 2015, he won the Open Technology Fund Fellowship, a program that provides support for scholars who want to work on projects related to "information controls, specifically repressive Internet censorship and surveillance.”


         - Joseph Wolkin