Skip to main content

Muhammad Ali

PhD Student

Contact

Office Location

805 Columbus Avenue
660 Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Complex (ISEC)
Boston, MA 02120

Biography

Muhammad Ali is a PhD student at Northeastern’s College of Computer and Information Science focusing on social networks, privacy, and algorithmic auditing, advised by Professor Drs. Alan Mislove and Christo Wilson. He is from Lahore, Pakistan. Ali earned his BS in Computer Science from the National University of Computer & Emerging Sciences in Lahore and his MS in Computer Science from Saarland University.

Ali is a part of Northeastern’s Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute, where he deals with problems in data privacy and bias in data-driven algorithms. Previously, he worked at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems during his MS studies in Saarbrücken, Germany, particularly on bias and discrimination problems in online ads such as those on Facebook.

Ali focuses on better understanding the internet advertising ecosystem – what kinds of data are being shared and how does that affect users. He is interested in measuring and auditing algorithms in production for instances of bias and troubling behavior. He likes that his work is so relevant to internet users and that he can easily explain what he does to people inside and outside CS, like his family. In the future, he would enjoy being in an industrial research setting.

Education

  • BS in Computer Science, National University of Computer & Emerging Sciences, Lahore
  • MS in Computer Science, Saarland University

About Me

  • Hometown: Lahore, Pakistan
  • Field of Study: Social Networks, Privacy, Algorithmic Auditing
  • PhD Advisors: Alan Mislove and Christo Wilson

What are the specifics of your graduate education (thus far)?

I am currently part of Northeastern’s Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute, where I am very broadly dealing with problems in data privacy and bias in data-driven algorithms. Previously, I was at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems (MPI-SWS) during my master’s studies in Saarbrücken, Germany, where I worked on bias and discrimination problems in online ads – particularly on Facebook.

What are your research interests in a bit more detail? Is your current academic/research path what you always had in mind for yourself, or has it evolved somewhat? If so, how/why?

Specifically, my current focus is on better understanding the internet advertising ecosystem – what kinds of data is being shared and how it affects the internet’s users. I am also very interested in measuring/auditing algorithms in production (e.g. online ads, personalization etc.) for instances of bias and troubling behavior. I never imagined I’d end up working in privacy, but as computer science plays a major role in the public sphere and actively impacts people, the definition of privacy and the problem space has also expanded. It’s an exciting time to be working in the area.

What aspect of what you do is most interesting/fascinating to you? What aspects of your research (findings, angles, problems you’re solving) might surprise others?

I like the fact that my work is so relevant to everyone who uses the internet. I can easily explain what I work on to people outside CS, and even my family members!

What are your research/career goals, going forward?

I think I might enjoy being in an industrial research setting, where I can continue to do research and deploy some of my work to real users.

Where did you grow up/spend the most defining years of your childhood/young adulthood?

I’ve grown up in Lahore, Pakistan, in some of the central parts of the city. Consequently, I’m a bit of a desi food snob and take biryani recipes very seriously. I also very much enjoyed my time in Saarbrücken and sometimes miss looking at the hills – but I wouldn’t complain about Boston’s beautiful skyline either.