UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies joins groundbreaking study on big data ethics

MILWAUKEE _ Michael Zimmer, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Information Studies and director of the Center for Information Policy Research, will participate in a four year study of the ethics of “big data,” funded by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation

The project, PERVADE (Pervasive Data Ethics for Computational Research), brings together a multi-disciplinary team with expertise in computational science, research ethics, data practices, law and policy, health information, social computing, qualitative and quantitative research methods, and data privacy.

“The project studies how diverse stakeholders – big data researchers, platforms, regulators, and user communities – understand their ethical obligations and choices related to computational research that relies on big, pervasive data sets about people,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer, one of the seven principal investigators, will lead sub-projects focusing on ethical training and practices of computational researchers, as well as an assessment of the ethical components of large-scale data sharing initiatives among research scientists. 

Researchers from six institutions are participating in the PERVADE collaboration:

  • Dr. Katie Shilton – College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park
  • Dr. Jessica Vitak – College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park
  • Dr. Matthew Bietz – Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine
  • Dr. Casey Fiesler – Department of Information Science at University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Dr. Jacob Metcalf – Data & Society Research Institute
  • Dr. Arvind Narayanan – Department of Computer Science at Princeton University
  • Dr. Michael Zimmer – School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

The project’s research focus will extend across consumers, big data researchers, commercial providers, and regulators, both domestically and internationally, to explore how these diverse stakeholders understand their ethical obligations and choices, and how their decisions affect data system design and use.

Specific issues that PERVADE team will examine include how people experience the reuse of their personal data; what social factors influence people’s willingness to share their data; how and when consent should be given; and how consumers’ concerns can be shared with data system designers and big data researchers.

“By empowering researchers with information about the norms and risks of big data research, we can make sure that users of any digital platform are only involved in research in ways they don’t find surprising or unfair,” said Katie Shilton, associate professor in the College of Information Studies at UMD and primary investigator on the grant.

The team aims to use project findings to guide best practices for each stakeholder group using decision-support tools, risk measurement methods, public educational materials, and an open dataset of findings by the end of the project in 2021.

 About UW-Milwaukee, School of Information Studies

The School of Information Studies at UWM offers several degree programs including a bachelor’s in information science and technology, an ALA-accredited master of library and information science, a master of science in information science & technology and a Ph.D. in information studies. With a growing student body of more than 1,000 students, SOIS strives to be a premier international iSchool that shapes knowledge and information technology through innovative research and teaching. SOIS is a leader in advancing knowledge and preparing students from diverse backgrounds to be successful information professionals within their communities. 

About UWM

Recognized as one of the nation’s 115 top research universities, UW-Milwaukee provides a world-class education to 26,000 students from 89 countries on a budget of $667 million. Its 14 schools and colleges include Wisconsin’s only schools of architecture, freshwater sciences and public health, and it is a leading educator of nurses and teachers. UW-Milwaukee partners with leading companies to conduct joint research, offer student internships and serve as an economic engine for southeastern Wisconsin. The Princeton Review named UW-Milwaukee a 2018 “Best Midwestern” university based on overall academic excellence and student reviews, and the Sierra Club has recognized it as Wisconsin’s leading sustainable university.