Posted by Rob Knies

 Saikat Guha

Saikat Guha is nothing if not passionate about his research, and the goal of his current work can be stated in two words: better ads.

“I am building experimental systems,” states Guha, a researcher in the Mobility, Networks, and Systems group at Microsoft Research India, “that preserve user privacy, show highly relevant ads, and give advertisers a clear idea about their return on investment.”

That dedication and focus is part of the reason why Technology Review has named Guha to its annual TR35 list of the world’s top innovators under the age of 35.

The recognition, bestowed by a publication from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), goes to innovators in such fields as biotechnology, computer and electronics hardware and software, energy, the web, nanotechnology, and other emerging fields. Recipients, chosen by a panel of expert judges and Technology Review’s editorial staff, will discuss their achievements in Cambridge, Mass., in late October during the Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT.

“This year’s TR35 recipients are applying technology to some of our generation’s greatest challenges and innovating to improve the way we live and work,” says Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of Technology Review. “We look forward to watching these young technology leaders grow and advance over the coming years.”

Guha’s TR35 citation is for “letting advertisers send targeted pitches to your mobile phone without ever seeing your personal information.” That, obviously, is something that drives his research.

“Targeted online advertising has, in the past, always been seen as conflicting with user privacy,” he says. “My colleagues and I scientifically demonstrated this to be false. We built an experimental system that delivered highly relevant ads while preserving user privacy.

“This has caused a mind shift in the research community. Several research groups, both at universities and at other research labs, have since proposed other privacy-preserving advertising systems. Regulators and industry are taking notice. I co-organized the workshop that, for the first time, brought together all these stakeholders under one roof to focus on Internet tracking, advertising, and privacy. The mind shift we have caused and the spirited debate we have started, I believe, contributed significantly to the [TR35] committee’s decision.”

Indeed, Guha and his collaborators have a long list of groundbreaking research in protecting user privacy in online advertising, in auctions for online ads, and on mobile phones. Just last week, I blogged about his work on fighting click-spam.

“Ongoing projects at Microsoft Research are looking at using deep user context, in a privacy-preserving manner, to show better ads, especially in the mobile and social context,” he says. “As each piece of the jigsaw falls into place, it identifies the next piece I need to work on. The final picture is something that simultaneously protects the user while being genuinely useful.”

Even given his concentration on improving the online ad experience, Guha probably won’t be forgetting his TR35 recognition anytime soon.

“It was a humbling moment,” he concludes. “I consider the TR35 a vote of confidence that I am on the right track toward making a positive change in the world—but I have a long way to go before I achieve that goal.”