Computer Laboratory

Jovan Powar

Picture of Jovan Powar

I am a third year PhD student here at the Computer Lab, supervised by Prof Alastair Beresford, in the Digital Technology Group. I am also a member of Trinity College, where I also studied the Computer Science Tripos to Part III, i.e. the undergrad course and the Advanced Computer Science Masters.

I am interested in all things privacy-related, especially when approached from an interdisciplinary standpoint. My work focuses on the implications of data collection and sharing systems in the real world, where there are no technical panaceas for the challenge of preserving privacy and civil liberties.

My fundamental thesis is that, much like we learnt long ago not to think of security as a binary "secure vs insecure" challenge, we must reframe the task of preserving privacy as a risk management problem. As such, my research frequently veers into law, economics, and ethics.

In my first year I delved into the structure of data collection, sharing, and brokerage ecosystems. I maintain the Device Analyzer project along with Alastair and Dr Andy Rice, and started a study on privacy in the advertising ecosystem. The adtech privacy project has run into some really fascinating problems, so if you're at all experienced or interested in data brokerage systems or advertising, I'd love to hear from you!

At the moment I am finishing up a couple of large-scale survey projects on the current practice of dataset collection and sharing for research. We have built some principled approaches to threat modelling for privacy invasion in the presence of unknown side information that we hope will lead to better risk-based formulations of data protection burden. Alongside this work, we aim to disambiguate the actual notion of identification in practice, to bridge the gap between the broad scope of legal imperatives and the mathematical models upon which computer science relies.

During my undergrad and masters research I also worked with Dr Robert Harle on localisation systems. (The richness of the location data I ended up playing with was what scared me enough to pivot to privacy!)

Occasional writing can be found at my blog, and if you like, you can read my first year report (PhD proposal) and second year report.


J. Powar, C. Gao, R. Harle, "Assessing the impact of multi-channel BLE beacons on fingerprint-based positioning", International Conference on Indoor Positioning and Indoor Navigation (IPIN), pp. 1-8, 2017.

J. Powar, A.R. Beresford, "A Data Sharing Platform For Earables Research", EarComp 2019.


In addition to handling practical programming assessment in ML and Java, I currently supervise Computer Science undergraduates in the following subjects:

  • Economics, Law and Ethics
  • Algorithms
  • Further Human-Computer Interaction
  • Foundations of Computer Science (with functional programming)
  • Object-Oriented Programming

Other pursuits

Outside of research, I am a stand-up comedian, performing regularly in Cambridge and occasionally elsewhere—I hope to take a second ensemble show to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2020. I also have a dark history as an event planner, having been on the committee for the Trinity May Ball twice (first as Graphics/Scene/IT/Secretary, then as Vice President), but have since run away as the burden of managing a budget in excess of £500k is not conducive to completing a PhD.

Don't get me started on typography, film, or interior design unless you're ready to be bombarded with sketches and essays.


Phone: +44 (0)1223 763530

Department of Computer Science and Technology
University of Cambridge
15 JJ Thomson Avenue
Cambridge CB3 0FD

Last updated 2020-01-20