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Ethics of Big Data Subject of $3 Million U Maryland Grant

The University of Maryland has won a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study the ethics of capturing and using big data.

Dubbed PERVADE (for Pervasive Data Ethics for Computational Research), the four-year project will be led by the university's College of Information Studies and will examine issues around user consent, regulation and risk assessment to help guide technology developers, policymakers and regulators.

The team will look to consumers, other researchers, providers and regulators in the United States and abroad to understand how different interested parties understand their obligations and decisions and how those decisions affect the way systems are designed and used.

"More specifically," according to a news release, "the team's research will examine how people experience the reuse of their personal data; what social factors influence people's willingness to share their data; how and when consent should be given; and how consumers' concerns can be shared with data system designers and big data researchers."

"Whether mobile phone apps, website search engines, wearable technology or social platforms, consumer information has become highly trackable and available," said Katie Shilton, associate professor at UMD and principal investigator on the grant, in a prepared statement. "This has resulted in an ethically questionable free-for-all in research and marketing."

At the end of the project in 2021, the team plans to produce best practices, tools for making better decisions, risk-management strategies, materials for public education and an open dataset of their findings for the various groups involved.

"By empowering researchers with information about the norms and risks of big data research, we can make sure that users of any digital platform are only involved in research in ways they don't find surprising or unfair," added Shilton.

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About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].

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