The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

30 September 2020

Three projects from the University of Oxford and Kings College London, focusing on biometrics, alternatives to cookies and third-party smart home assistants, have been selected for the latest round of the Grants Programme.

In January, organisations were invited to bid for a grant to support independent research projects. The ICO was looking for proposals that would provide clear public benefit, with open source, re-usable outputs. Each project must also meet one or more of the six strategic goals set out in the ICO’s Information Rights Strategic Plan.

The projects are:

University of Oxford (Professor Peter Grindrod)

‘IBICK - Implications of Biometrics for Individuals and their Close Kin: Taxonomy, Proportionality and Public Understanding’

Professor Grindrod said:

“When biometric data is collected, we talk about a ‘biometric sampling event’ (BSE). BSEs vary with respect to their deployment “location”, ie private or public, and also with respect to the subject’s awareness and “consent”. Some biometrics are unique and random, such as fingerprints. Some are unique and non-random, such as DNA or facial characteristics, and some are non-unique and non-random, such as skin colour or spoken accent.

“Each time a new BSE is devised, a number of concerns arise which seek to balance the rights of individuals to remain private citizens and the rights of society to deploy sampling technologies and data analysis so as to protect its citizens from criminal or harmful behaviour. Our project will develop a BSE taxonomy, or classification, whose purpose is to support a principle of proportionality. This should mean that the more invasive types of BSE are deployed only when there is a sufficient level of societal jeopardy.”

Kings College London (Professor Perry Keller)

‘After third party cookies – Consumer consent and data autonomy in the globalised Adtech industry’

Professor Keller said:

“Programmatic advertising, or Adtech, has emerged as one of Britain’s most pervasive forms of concealed online tracking and profiling. Within Adtech’s complex data driven systems, the placing of myriad third party cookies (TPCs) on consumer web browsers has fed a vast commercial ecosystem. Nonetheless, under growing pressure from data protection regulators as well as changing online platform practices, Adtech’s reliance on TPCs is on the wane.

“The ‘After TPCs’ research project has two aims: First, by widening its inquiry beyond the more familiar UK and EU regulatory sphere, the project will critically investigate changes in the world’s dominant Adtech markets – the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Second, the project will focus on the key question of how the ‘notice and choice / consent’ (NC/C) data protection model will function, as new ways of profiling and tracking consumers online replace TPCs. The project will assess alternative ways to provide consumers with personal data control and genuine empowerment in the face of profiling and tracking.”

Kings College London (Dr Jose Such)

‘A tool to evaluate privacy practices of third-party smart home assistant developers’

Dr Such said:

“Smart Home Personal Assistants (SPAs) are growing in popularity, with at least one in five UK homes estimated to have one. SPAs have a complex architecture and some of their capabilities are provided via third-party skills. This project aims to create a tool to analyse the privacy practices of third-party skills in SPAs such as Amazon Echo/Alexa.

“For this, the tool will automatically analyse the traceability between the permissions declared by the third-party skills and the data practices stated in their privacy policies. The tool will be able to state whether traceability is broken, partial, or complete.”

Lynne Currie, Head of Innovation at the ICO, said:

“The Grants Programme remains an important part of our Innovation work.

“It’s great that we’ve been able to select three very different, current and important topics in areas that will impact a wide range of people, businesses and research.”

If you have any questions about the Grants Programme or any of the completed or ongoing projects please contact ICOGrantsProgramme@ico.org.uk.

Data protection professionals, businesses and academics are free to use these outputs to continue to innovate across the privacy sphere. 

If you are interested in applying for the next round of funding for of the ICO grants programme, look out for announcements on our website, social media channels and newsletters in the New Year.