Alfred Kobsa

Getting Too Personal

When it comes to online commerce, our transactions are increasingly personalized. Consider Amazon: With each visit, it tracks the pages we click and the things we buy. This is valuable data that enables the company to offer tailored recommendations — and that ultimately increases revenue by 20 to 30 percent. And yet, Professor Alfred Kobsa says, “There’s a fine line between being helpful and being intrusive.” Through his research, he explores this delicate balance, working with industry to bolster business while at the same time respecting customers’ privacy concerns.

Boosting the Brand

Many people are reluctant to use websites or apps for fear of what will become of the information they provide. Professor Kobsa notes that the competing needs of every party in an online transaction can actually be channeled into “a win-win for consumers and companies. People will spend more time and money when they know a vendor is taking their concerns seriously.” The message is compelling, attracting global brands such as Microsoft and Samsung to invest in Professor Kobsa’s work. “By designing behavioral experiments that let people make privacy decisions, we provide companies with invaluable input that helps them build a better business.”

Rules to Live by

Another area of Professor Kobsa’s research focuses on helping people shape personal behavioral health rules to manage chronic disease. “Doctors can offer patients general recommendations — like what to eat and when to exercise — but they don’t work for everyone,” he says. His answer: “We’ve developed mobile apps allowing people to record personal information, which helps them discover trends in their habits and make adjustments to how they manage their disease.” To engage children — for whom record-keeping presents a particular challenge — he disguises the process as a computer game, enabling kids to have fun while learning more about their asthma, diabetes or other chronic illness.

Alfred Kobsa - ICS faculty head shotsphoto: Steve Zylius/UC Irvine communications

“There’s a fine line between technology being helpful and being intrusive.”

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