Christo Wilson

Assistant Professor

Current Research Projects

  • Personalization Algorithms, the Filter Bubble, and Algorithmic Society – In recent years, there has been growing awareness of and concern about powerful algorithms that mediate information on the Web. For example, Google Search and Facebook both personalize the information shown to each user, while e-commerce sites leverage purchase history to drive advertisements and product recommendations. These algorithms can lead directly to harmful outcomes, such as increased political polarization through online “echo chamber” effects, or price discrimination by e-commerce sites against consumers. Professor Wilson’s team is working towards understanding how personalization algorithms on the Web are being used, and making their inner-workings transparent to the public. We are actively collaborating with regulators like the European Commission to turn our research findings into practical policy outcomes.
  • Understanding Online and Offline Tracking – Tracking is ubiquitous on the Web today, and yet we have only the most basic understanding of who collects data about us, and how this data is shared with third-parties. We are currently engaged in several projects that are delving inside the tracking ecosystem to answer these questions, including looking at how information collected about consumers in the offline world gets moved into online contexts. Based on our findings, we plan to empower users with tools to help protect their privacy.
  • Improving the SSL/TLS Ecosystem – The SSL/TLS protocol is a critical element of online security that protects everything from online banking to e-commerce to health records. However, recent events like the Heartbleed vulnerability have demonstrated that SSL/TLS is vulnerable to both software and human-induced failures. Professor Wilson is working with researchers at Northeastern, University of Maryland, Duke, and Stanford to understand the threats to SSL/TLS on the modern Web, and develop novel systems to address these challenges.

Research Interests

Professor Wilson’s research interests are broadly focused on security, privacy, and transparency on the Web. Specific areas of interest include online tracking, the impact of algorithms on the Web, online social networks, and crowdturfing and propaganda on social media.

Education

  • BS in Creative Studies (Computer Science emphasis) | University of California, Santa Barbara
  • MS in Computer Science | University of California, Santa Barbara
  • PhD in Computer Science | University of California, Santa Barbara

Google Scholar Page

Biography

Christo Wilson is an assistant professor in the College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern University. Professor Wilson received his PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara working under Ben Y. Zhao. He was the recipient of the Outstanding Dissertation Award from UCSB in 2012, and received a Best Paper Award at SIGCOMM in 2011. His work is funded by the National Science Foundation, Verisign, the Data Transparency Lab, and the Knight Foundation.

Professor Wilson performed the first large-scale measurements of the Facebook social network in 2008 to understand how users form friendships and interact. These insights about the behavior of normal people enabled Professor Wilson to develop novel techniques for combating spam and fake accounts on social networks, even when the attacks are perpetrated by real people instead of automated software bots. These techniques have been successfully deployed on LinkedIn and Renren (Facebook in China). To date, Professor Wilson has shared anonymized social network datasets to over 500 research groups around the world, and continues to open-source the code and data from his work examining algorithms and personalization on the Web.

Professor Wilson helped organize the first annual ACM Conference on Online Social Networks (COSN), and continues to serve on the program committees for several conference, including WWW, IMC, and ICWSM. His work has been covered extensively in the press, including the CBS Evening News, Good Morning America, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post.

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