Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Complex Systems and Data Science

First Advisor

Randall Harp

Second Advisor

Peter Dodds


In today's digital age, the widespread collection, utilization, and sharing of personal data are challenging our conventional beliefs about privacy and information security. This thesis will explore the boundaries of conventional privacy and security frameworks and investigate new methods to handle online privacy by integrating groups. Additionally, we will examine approaches to monitoring the types of information gathered on individuals to tackle transparency concerns in the data broker and data processor sector. We aim to challenge traditional notions of privacy and security to encourage innovative strategies for safeguarding them in our interconnected, dispersed digital environment.

This thesis uses a multi-disciplinary approach to complex systems, drawing from various fields such as data ethics, legal theory, and philosophy. Our methods include complex systems modeling, network analysis, data science, and statistics.

As a first step, we investigate the limits of individual consent frameworks in online social media platforms. We develop new security settings, called distributed consent, that can be used in an online social network or coordinated across online platforms. We then model the levels of observability of individuals on the platform(s) to measure the effectiveness of the new security settings against surveillance from third parties. Distributed consent can help to protect individuals online from surveillance, but it requires a high coordination cost on the part of the individual. Users must also decide whether to protect their privacy from third parties and network neighbors by disclosing security settings or taking on the burden of coordinating security on single and multiple platforms. However, the coordination burden may be more appropriate for systems-level regulation.

We then explore how groups of individuals can work together to protect themselves from the harms of misinformation on online social networks. Social media users are not equally susceptible to all types of misinformation. Further, diverse groups of social media communities can help protect one another from misinformation by correcting each other's blind spots. We highlight the importance of group diversity in network dynamics and explore how natural diversity within groups can provide protection rather than relying on new technologies such as distributed consent settings.

Finally, we investigate methods to interrogate what types of personal data are collected by third parties and measure the risks and harms associated with aggregating personal data. We introduce methods that provide transparency into how modern data collection practices pose risks to data subjects online.

We hope that the collection of these results provides a humble step toward revealing gaps in privacy and security frameworks and promoting new solutions for the digital age.



Number of Pages

207 p.