Innovative new research into children’s online privacy and also medical data sharing and consent has been funded by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

New digital tools protecting pseudonymised data and personal information rights in the financial services sector are also among the first independent research projects to be supported by the ICO Grants Programme

The programme was launched in June with a call for proposals for independent research into new, practical solutions for privacy challenges and issues affecting UK citizens, both now and in the future. 

The ICO received 117 applications which were assessed and filtered by two review panels, comprising both ICO experts and external peers.

Steve Wood, ICO Deputy Commissioner (Policy), said:

“We’re delighted to be supporting these four projects as part of our grants programme. They all support innovative solutions to key privacy challenges which can make a real difference to the public, and we look forward to seeing the results.

“We were encouraged to see how much independent thinking around privacy and data protection issues is going on. The ICO supports innovation, which doesn’t need to be at the expense of people’s information rights, and also has a remit of keeping abreast of new technologies and challenges, and we hope these projects will support those goals.”

The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, is talking about the programme and the successful projects at a research forum taking place during the Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities Conference in Vancouver today. The successful applicants in the first year of the programme are as follows:

  1. Digital tool to help people enforce their data protection rights

Civil society organisation the Open Rights Group is collaborating with design studio IF to create a digital tool to help individuals protect and enforce their data protection rights, particularly in the insurance and banking sectors. It will be accessed by a web browser and will aim to set out individual rights in plain language. It is anticipated the tool will be launched around the same time as implementation of the GDPR on 25 May 2018. It will be supported by regular blogs and efforts to engage key businesses throughout its lifetime, to help improve standards of information rights practice in the financial services industry. The project has been awarded £59,581.

Javier Ruiz, Open Rights Group policy director, said:

“We want people to be able to find out what companies know about them, and re-use their own information so they can benefit from lower bills and better services. We'll be building tools so that people can get real benefits from their new legal rights under GDPR.”

  1. Online tool to evaluate the risk of re-identification of pseudonymised data

Imperial College London will create an online tool for both the public and organisations to evaluate the risk of re-identification of pseudonymised personal data, by assessing it via a new machine learning algorithm. This will lead to strong public accountability for data controllers and processors, as people will be able to see the level of risk in providing personal data to them. The aim is to make the data collection process safer and more transparent. The tool, named Harpo, will be available to all as a free resource and a ‘hackathon’ is planned to evaluate the data collection processes taking place in the UK. Development of the algorithm will begin early next year and it should be implemented by Autumn 2018. The project has been awarded £70,338.

Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, head of the Computational Privacy Group at ICL’s Data Science Institute, said:

Based on cutting-edge privacy research done at Imperial, Harpo will help make large-scale data collection efforts safer and more transparent to consumers. More than ever, we need strong science to help us as a society to find a balance between the great potential of data for good and the right of individuals to privacy.

  1. Securely sharing medical information and supporting research

Teesside University is collaborating with the Connected Health Cities project, which aims to roll out the Great North Care Record (GNCR) in the North East and Cumbria. The project aims to create a tool for healthcare professionals to share medical information securely and to support research. The ICO will fund a project to develop and build a privacy tool for future use with the GNCR. Interactive focus groups will provide feedback on the development of the tool, ultimately providing Connected Health Cities with a consent management system for sharing medical information. This project is set to run for 12 months, beginning in April 2018 and has been awarded £82,544.

Jim Longstaff, Reader in Computing at Teesside University, said:

“The aim of this research is to build and evaluate a prototype privacy tool and user interface for eliciting people's consent to provide access to their health and social records.

“The privacy tool will provide appropriate information, options and reassurances to patients and health care professionals. Research results in these areas will be widely applicable to health and social care systems.”

  1. Children’s online privacy

Funding is also granted to the London School of Economics (LSE) for its project looking at children’s information rights and privacy. This will examine the evidence gaps in children’s capacity to consent, their functional skills and understanding of the commercial online environment. Research will be carried out to inform child-inclusive policies and recommendations for education. The end result will be an online toolkit for children to increase their awareness and competency around online privacy. Evidence obtained from this project will also help parents and teachers understand what children do online and how to provide support and guidance to them. The project is due to commence in February 2018 and will run for 12 months. The award amount is still to be finalised.

Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, said:

“With growing concerns over children’s online privacy and the commercial uses of their data, it is vital that children’s understandings of the digital environment, their digital skills and their capacity to consent are taken into account in designing services, regulation and policy. I’m delighted to be leading an investigation into these timely questions, in a project that aims to listen to children’s voices and develop tools to empower them better.”

Further information about the successful bids will be published in the near future on the ICO Grants Programme page. The programme will open for a second round of funding in 2018.

If you need more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070, or visit the media section on our website. For more information on individual projects, please contact the following:

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  1. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  1. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law that will replace the Data Protection Act 1998 and will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. The government has confirmed that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.
  1. Bids for funding from the ICO Grants Programme had to meet at least one the key goals set out in the ICO’s Information Rights Strategic Plan – including increasing public trust and confidence in data processing, keeping abreast of evolving technology, improving information rights standards, shaping and enforcing legislation, and maintaining and developing international leadership and influence.
  1. All awards made under the ICO Grants Programme are subject to contract. The programme will be run in line with the Government’s Minimum Grants Standards and successful applicants will be subject to continuous monitoring.
  1. The ICO’s International Strategy aims to help protect the information rights of UK citizens in a global digital environment. It enhances privacy protection for the UK public, no matter where in the world potential threats and risks emanate from. It also commits the ICO to learning about new ideas, developments and opportunities emerging from other countries.
  2. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.