University of Bristol: Fresh partnerships herald exciting new era for research centre dedicated to online protection

REPHRAIN National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online focuses on protecting citizens online while allowing them to securely participate in digital technologies.

This is the second REPHRAIN funding call and aims to highlight research questions and challenges that are not currently being addressed by active REPHRAIN projects.

REPHRAIN is pleased to announce that the new projects are:

Consumer Privacy Insurance: A Privacy Enhancing Financial Product? (PRINSUR) led by the University of Edinburgh
Moderation in Decentralised Social Networks (DSNmod) led by Queen Mary’s University London
PETS4SMEs: Supporting and Enabling Effective Privacy Decision Making for SMEs led by Queen Mary’s University London
WELL-CONSENT documents: true consent through subtraction led by Teesside University
The Consumer Privacy Insurance: A Privacy Enhancing Financial Product? (PRINSUR) provides an interdisciplinary first-look at privacy insurance for consumers. By sharing what privacy harms are covered and which are excluded, which risk management services are offered by the insurer, and how the products are priced, it will allow individuals to make more informed choices when formulating a strategy for managing privacy risk.

The Moderation in Decentralised Social Networks (DSNmod) will measure the presence of toxic content across Decentralised Social Networks (DSNs) to understand online social harms and develop and evaluate federated learning methods to enable the decentralised moderation of DSNs. They also support DSNs to become intelligent users of Privacy Enhancing Technology (PETs) and build privacy into their infrastructure while, at the same time, improving their moderation capabilities.

PETS4SMEs: Supporting and Enabling Effective Privacy Decision Making for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) aims to help organisations and users face numerous occurrences of privacy incidents and data breaches. In many cases, the challenges of understanding privacy and applying appropriate measures can be significant. SMEs, in particular, often do not fully appreciate the importance of privacy threats, with owners and operators more immersed in day-to-day business operations. Their research investigates this topic and seeks to address three key research challenges, each of national importance and each well aligned with REPHRAIN’s missions and approach.

WELL-CONSENT documents: true consent through subtractionaddresses the problem that information consent documents (ICDs) such as conditions for an online service like e-mail are too long and too complex, failing to enable informed decision-making. Their solution is to ensure that ICDs meet people’s actual needs by reducing the text, making it comprehensible and simple. Information should only be provided if it maximises well-being by satisfying people’s needs. To do this, they will ‘distil the essence’, providing information in a comprehensible way and then provide further detail on request.

Professor of Cyber Security at the University of Bristol, Awais Rashid, is Director of the new Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online. He said: “Online environments have become a central part of citizens’ daily lives, even more so during the pandemic. Keeping personal information private while navigating complex digital platforms and myriad privacy controls and policies is a challenge. This is exacerbated by mal-actors engaging in victimisation and fraud as well as spread of disinformation and content such as hate speech. These new projects will enable fundamental research into not more effective means to keep citizens safe online.”

Previous partnerships include eight projects dealing with issues such as clamping down on unlicensed COVID-19 activity and preventing online recruitment that aids human trafficking.

REPHRAIN have conceived 37 projects since its launch. These outcomes will be collated and made available via the REPHRAIN Toolbox, addressing a comprehensive set of online harms.

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