This grant funds efforts by Micah Altman of MIT and Salil Vadhan of Harvard to develop practical tools that researchers and repositories can use to process private and proprietary data. The goal of the project is to provide workable procedures that improve the accessibility, reproducibility, and confidentiality of “big data” produced from a variety of sources. Potential outputs include templates for legal agreements as well as software for depositing and accessing sensitive information. In addition, Altman, Vadhan, and their team plan to analyze the incentives and constraints on players throughout the system—from research funders to university administrators, and from potential data providers to academic publishers.
For social scientists, working with personally identifiable data poses significant technical, administrative, and legal challenges. Though the big data era has made these challenges increasingly ubiquitous, there is hardly anywhere to turn for reliable standards, precedents, or guidance. This project aims to help rectify that pressing problem.