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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Security and privacy challenges of using technology in personal, professional, and involuntary relationships Obada-Obieh, Borke


This dissertation reports on the security and privacy challenges of using technology in personal, professional, and involuntary relationships. We investigated these challenges by conducting semi-structured interviews and focus groups with participants. To study challenges in personal relationships, we recruited 25 participants who stopped sharing at least one online account in the 12 months preceding the study. We recruited 24 participants working from home in the three weeks preceding the study for challenges related to professional relationships and technology use. To investigate involuntary relationships, we recruited 35 sexual assault survivors, support workers, or both. We analyzed our findings using thematic analysis and grounded theory. Further, to understand technology’s various characteristics that facilitate abuse and lead to security and privacy concerns, we conducted a literature review of 224 research papers using involuntary relationships as a case study. We identified various security, and privacy challenges in using technology in relationships. For instance, in ending the sharing of online accounts, participants reported that angry ex-partners impersonated them and hijacked their accounts. Further, in telecommuting, participants sacrificed their privacy and security to maintain their jobs and professional relationships. Our literature review results also show that technology’s inherent characteristics facilitate abuse: covertness, anonymity, evolution, boundlessness, publicness, reproducibility, accessibility, indispensability, malleability, and opaqueness. We find these characteristics facilitate and amplify the identified security and privacy challenges of using technology in relationships. We discuss the insights from our findings, namely that power imbalance is a prominent problem in technological use in relationships. We also provide a design rubric that developers can use when developing technologies to predict users’ security and privacy challenges and recommendations on how some challenges can be addressed. We are optimistic that the insights derived from our thesis could lead to the design of technological solutions that could address users’ security and privacy challenges when using technology in various types of relationships.

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