Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science and Microsoft announce a major collaboration to develop an open data differential privacy platform

September 26, 2019
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Gary King, Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor and director of Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS) will be leading our collaboration with Microsoft to build a platform to ensure data is kept private, while enabling researchers from academia, government, nonprofits, and the private sector to gain new and novel insights that can rapidly advance human knowledge. This project is intended to provide both mathematical guarantees of privacy for individuals that may be represented in the data and statistical guarantees for researchers who will be analyzing the data.

“We are thrilled to be working with Microsoft on this important project. Instead of balancing the interests individuals have in their own privacy and the interest the public has in researchers discovering knowledge to advance the public good, we aim to remove the conflict and achieve both,” said Gary King.

“Researchers will be able to use the platform to make their own data sets available to other researchers all around the world,” explains John Kahan, Microsoft’s Chief Data Analytics Officer.  “As a result, we can combine various and previously unconnected or even unrelated data sets into massive data sets that can be analyzed by AI, which will further unlock the power of data.”

The collaboration with Microsoft will be closely aligned with the work of Harvard's Privacy Tools Project, which is led by Salil Vadhan, Vicky Joseph Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, and was started in 2012 through the joint efforts of the Center for Research on Computation & Society, the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society, and IQSS.   The Privacy Tools Project is a broad effort to advance a multidisciplinary understanding of data privacy issues and build computational, statistical, legal, and policy tools to help address these issues in a variety of contexts. The newest endeavor of the Privacy Tools Project is OpenDP, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. In OpenDP, Vadhan, King, and collaborators will lead a community effort to build an open-source suite of tools for enabling privacy-protected analysis of sensitive personal data, focused on a library of algorithms for generating differentially private data releases.

This project to develop open source software with industry is also a part of IQSS' ongoing efforts in industry-academic relations, where IQSS works to create scalable frameworks and tools for companies to share data with university researchers in a secure and privacy preserving way along with expertise and personnel.

About Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS)

IQSS, Harvard’s largest social science research center, seeks to solve society’s greatest challenges through scientifically rigorous and collaborative scholarship. It develops new statistical and computational methods; creates, preserves and distributes knowledge about the world; and builds novel infrastructure to empower research and solve societal problems.

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.