More and more of our daily tasks collect our data for often unspecified purposes, raising questions about security and privacy in our modern, connected age. But can the tools of data science also be deployed to protect us from misuse of this information, inspiring safer systems and behavior? 

A new article in the fall issue of the University of Chicago Magazine looks at how UChicago CS researchers Heather Zheng, Ben Zhao, and Blase Ur are exploring these topics, in fields ranging from medicine to smart cities to the psychology of how we interact with computers and other devices.

Advances in data science, a field that has become a focus of the Department of Computer Science, don’t happen in a vacuum. Researchers discover patterns and glean insights from data, but such mining puts scientists in a precarious position. What if the population who provided that data doesn’t want their information used in certain ways? What if they weren’t even aware it was being collected?

To guard against these dilemmas, data scientists also scrutinize how to use data sets ethically and safely. “We’re looking at how to access sensitive material, like large databases of genomic or body sensor data, in a secure way that guarantees patient privacy while still allowing researchers to gain useful information,” says Zhao.

Read the full story by writer Maureen Searcy at the UChicago magazine website. Illustration by Maria Corte.

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