Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Computer Science and Engineering

Major Professor

Adriana Iamnitchi, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Swaroop Ghosh, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Yao Liu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Skvoretz, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kingsley A. Reeves, Jr., Ph.D.


Community Question Answering, Crowdsourcing, User Behavior, Cross-cultural Variations, Contextual Integrity


Online Social Networks (OSNs) have seen an exponential growth over the last decade, with Facebook having more than 1.49 billion monthly active users and Twitter having 135,000 new users signing up every day as of 2015. Users are sharing 70 million photos per day on the Instagram photo-sharing network. Yahoo Answers question-answering community has more than 1 billion posted answers. The meteoric rise in popularity has made OSNs important social platforms for computer-mediated communications and embedded themselves into society’s daily life, with direct consequences to the offline world and activities. OSNs are built on a foundation of trust, where users connect to other users with common interests or overlapping personal trajectories. They leverage real-world social relationships and/or common preferences, and enable users to communicate online by providing them with a variety of interaction mechanisms.

This dissertation studies abuse and privacy in online social networks. More specifically, we look at two issues: (1) the content abusers in the community question answering (CQA) social network and, (2) the privacy risks that comes from the default permissive privacy settings of the OSNs. Abusive users have negative consequences for the community and its users, as they decrease the community’s cohesion, performance, and participation. We investigate the reporting of 10 million editorially curated abuse reports from 1.5 million users in Yahoo Answers, one of the oldest, largest, and most popular CQA platforms. We characterize the contribution and position of the content abusers in Yahoo Answers social networks. Based on our empirical observations, we build machine learning models to predict such users.

Users not only face the risk of exposing themselves to abusive users or content, but also face leakage risks of their personal information due to weak and permissive default privacy policies. We study the relationship between users’ privacy concerns and their engagement in Yahoo Answers social networks. We find privacy-concerned users have higher qualitative and quantitative contributions, show higher retention, report more abuses, have higher perception on answer quality and have larger social circles. Next, we look at users’ privacy concerns, abusive behavior, and engagement through the lenses of national cultures and discover cross-cultural variations in CQA social networks.

However, our study in Yahoo Answers reveals that the majority of users (about 87%) do not change the default privacy policies. Moreover, we find a similar story in a different type of social network (blogging): 92% bloggers’ do not change their default privacy settings. These results on default privacy are consistent with general-purpose social networks (such as Facebook) and warn about the importance of user-protecting default privacy settings.

We model and implement default privacy as contextual integrity in OSNs. We present a privacy framework, Aegis, and provide a reference implementation. Aegis models expected privacy as contextual integrity using semantic web tools and focuses on defining default privacy policies. Finally, this dissertation presents a comprehensive overview of the privacy and security attacks in the online social networks projecting them in two directions: attacks that exploit users’ personal information and declared social relationships for unintended purposes; and attacks that are aimed at the OSN service provider itself, by threatening its core business.