New tools will make sharing research data safer in cyberspace

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With NSF grant, researchers will enhance technologies and policies to protect personal data used in research studies.

The real-time data of cyberspace, detailing every like, dislike, spur of the moment thought—and more—provide unprecedented opportunities for research by scientists from all areas.

No longer limited to narrow focus groups, painstaking in-person surveys, or artificially controlled studies, researchers today have a far easier time compiling and manipulating large data sets. At the same time, however, sharing such data can be fraught with risks.

Now, researchers at Harvard University will receive a four-year grant totaling nearly $5 million from the National Science Foundation’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) program to study and enhance the privacy of research data. The “Privacy Tools for Sharing Research Data” project will develop methods, tools and policies to further the tremendous value that can come from collecting, analyzing, and sharing data while more fully protecting individual privacy.

Salil Vadhan, Vicky Joseph Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), will serve as the lead investigator of the multi-school, cross-departmental effort that draws upon Harvard’s renowned expertise in the social sciences, law, government, statistics, and computer science.