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Digital economy research projects to get funding

Research projects aimed at building trust, privacy and security in the use of personal data and digital technologies are to receive funding

The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has selected 11 digitial economy research projects to collectively receive £11m in funding over the next three years.

The council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government, and is the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK.

In October 2017, the council called on researchers to submit proposals for projects that would further the understanding of privacy, trust, identity and security issues in the digital economy.

The aim of the funding initiative is to support interdisciplinary research across the spectrum of technological, economic, cultural, social, legal, ethical, design, behavioural and political disciplines and to engage with those who use research outputs, from industry to charities to communities.

The importance of this research has been underlined by the data exploitation scandal surrounding London-based data mining firm Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.

The research programme was launched by the council’s Digital Economy Theme. Theme lead John Baird said: “The rapid digital technological changes that have already happened are already having profound effects on the way people live, individually and collectively.

“The advances in the interconnectedness of devices, data and people present both opportunities and challenges. Recent news items around how personal data can be obtained and used highlights the need for research that can understand the complexities of socio-technical relationships while also safeguarding the integrity and usefulness of data.”

The successful projects address a number of areas that present challenges for those using data and those giving others access to their data.

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A project at the University of Nottingham will explore the challenge around connections required between cloud-based services and the internet of things (IoT) in workplaces and the home; a collaboration between the universities of Warwick, Surrey, and the West of England will examine the privacy, trust and identity issues arising from the development of personalised e-books for children's reading; and a Northumbria University project will look to identify and address fundamental challenges faced by those managing stigmatised long-term conditions such as HIV in managing their health and interacting with care services, peer support networks and private organisations.

A collaboration between the universities of Dundee, Strathclyde, Northumbria and Edinburgh will develop a prototype software tool to map out a portrait of a user’s digital footprint, reflecting it back to them to allow them to understand the cumulative nature of their personal data and the attendant vulnerabilities and risks.

A University of Oxford project aims to develop the first AI-supported mediation and conflict resolution techniques; a collaboration between Cardiff University, Newcastle University and UCL will develop novel computational methods to better ensure that cloud providers can enhance data privacy and will provide the basis for conforming to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); and a Cranfield University project will focus on three key public policy areas where algorithmic decision-making is employed – refugee resettlement, welfare and healthcare provision – to examine how the redesigning of the system interactions and communication of political and economic logic will enhance the security and wellbeing of individuals, protect the security of the state and increase confidence in digital service design.

Read more about the GDPR

A Newcastle University project in collaboration with Atom Bank will develop a set of design tools to enhance consumer trust in financial services, while a project by the universities of Aberdeen, Oxford and Cambridge will look at how AI systems and their developers can be held to account if they make biased or unfair decisions, or make mistakes.

A project involving the universities of Kent, Surrey and Warwick aims to develop a user-centric platform to prevent travellers from sharing data without understanding the privacy and security risks and consequences, or are worried to an extent that they stop sharing data altogether.

Finally, an Open University project aims to support a new engagement between authorities, such as the police and communities, in order to better investigate and, in the long term, reduce potential or actual threats to citizen security, safety and privacy.

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