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Saba Eskandarian received the NSF CAREER Award
June 12, 2023

Assistant Professor Saba Eskandarian was awarded a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The CAREER program offers NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

The five-year grant, worth $516,082, is for Eskandarian’s project titled, “Moderation and Accountability on Private Communication Platforms.” The research seeks to improve reporting of abusive content on private communication platforms.

Private messaging apps have long been commended for their strong emphasis on user privacy, aided by features like end-to-end encryption of users’ messages. However, a consequence of heightened privacy with encryption is the difficulty in reporting instances of abuse. When messaging platforms lack access to message content or the ability to identify involved parties, moderation by the platform is made extremely difficult, as the authenticity of abuse reports becomes unverifiable.

Eskandarian’s project seeks to devise new techniques for enabling users to verifiably report abusive content on private messaging platforms without compromising the security of unreported messages. By working with specific messaging technologies that are common across several existing and proposed platforms, he and his team will develop approaches that can enhance performance of private messaging applications that support reporting abuse. The project will also develop tools for third-party moderation, where outside entities vetted by a platform can moderate reported messages without direct platform involvement.

Rather than negotiate an uneasy compromise between user privacy and effective abuse reporting, Eskandarian’s research aims to show that platforms can maintain private communication while still providing the means to report and address abusive content. He hopes that this research can redefine what is possible on encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Signal, and iMessage.

Eskandarian specializes in applied cryptography, security, and privacy. He joined the department in 2021 after finishing a doctorate at Stanford University.

More information about Eskandarian’s awarded grant is available through the NSF website.