Research project gets funding to assess privacy consent understanding
Researchers from several different groups are pooling expertise to explore how people’s understanding and acceptance of information privacy and consent in on-line interactions.
Researchers from the world-renowned Information Security Group (ISG) at Royal Holloway, University of London, consent and privacy specialists at Salford and Cranfield Universities, consultancy Consult Hyperion and Sunderland City Council are involved with the project, which is working to understand if people fully understand issues of privacy and consent when they provide personal information over the internet or telephone.
If people don’t understand what they are consenting to, say the researchers, they are not able adequately to assess the risks they run and organisations cannot develop services which adequately address users’ privacy and consent needs.
The ‘Visualisation and Other Means of Expression’ project (VOME) is a £2m project co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council.
It is part of a £5.5 m investment by the Technology Strategy Board, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). This investment will also fund two other projects looking into different aspects of identity protection.
Cranfield University lead researcher, Debi Ashenden, said: “There is a concern that people aren’t really clear about the value of their unique identity. Our research will engage people in current debates about privacy and consent issues, find out how they think about their identity and what decisions they make. We hope the discussions will provide invaluable information to inform new identity management tools.”
Socials scientists and computer scientists from academia and industry will develop alternative conceptual models of on-line privacy which enable users to make clearer on-line disclosure choices. These decision-making models will facilitate a better dialogue between the designers of privacy and consent functionality and their customers.
“The project aims to develop an interactive mental model that enables people from all walks of life to interact with on-line privacy and consent issues, in the same way that the concept of carbon footprinting has enabled large parts of society to engage in the subject of the environment,” comments Lizzie Coles-Kemp, Project Leader from the ISG.
Cranfield University lead researcher, Debi Ashenden, adds: “With the Home Office estimating the cost of identity threat to the UK economy as £1.7billion a year, protecting our identity and personal information has never been more important.
“There is a concern that the ordinary citizen isn’t clear about the intrinsic value of their unique identity and they aren’t engaging in current debates about these issues. So, our research is going to be exposing various people to different ways of exploring privacy and consent issues to find out how they think about their identity and what decisions they make, and we hope the outcome will be to capture better requirements for identity management tools.”
Dave Birch of Consult Hyperion says, “An essential characteristic of a good digital identity infrastructure is that it supports informed consent. The problem that I hope that we will be able to address through the VOME project is that people can’t make informed consent unless they are able to understand privacy, the spectrum of choice available to them and the implications of choices they make.”
The research will be put to the test in real life scenarios; one of the project partners, Sunderland City Council, has implemented a regional, federated identity initiative for the north-east of England, enabling citizens to gain access to shared services provided by the public and private sector. The Council will work with the VOME team to produce a new set of tools – such as role-play games or narrative puzzles – to help youth support workers clarify the best ways to get the knowledge to young people that it is important to safeguard their personal information.
About the funding bodies
VOME is one of three new government-backed research projects which will see businesses, universities, a city council and other research and technology organisations working collaboratively to address the challenge of ensuring that privacy and consent is preserved in the next generation of identity management systems.
The project is funded by The Technology Strategy Board, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
The bad news is that the researchers are going to take until September 2011 to publish which is an outrageous length of time. By then our perceptions, understanding and even the systems we all work with will be very different and the value of the research hugely compromised.