Jean Yang, 29
Carnegie Mellon University
Why don’t computers keep our personal data secure by default?
When programmers create a feature for an app or a website, even something as simple as a calendar, they should code in protections so the personal information that the feature needs to access—such as your location—doesn’t slip out onto the Internet. Needless to say, they sometimes fail, leaving our data to be exploited by hackers. “Just like there are many ways to sink a boat,” says Jean Yang, “there are many ways to leak information.”
That’s why Yang created Jeeves, a programming language with privacy baked in. With Jeeves, developers don’t necessarily have to scrub personal information from their features, because Yang’s code essentially does it automatically. “It is a double hull for information leaks,” Yang says.
She has uploaded the code to open-source libraries for anyone to use. And this fall she begins as an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, where she can try to get her ideas to spread further. “Giving people tools to create technology is incredibly empowering,” she says.