Less than a year after his arrival at Brown, Professor Malte Schwarzkopf of Brown CS has received a Richard B. Salomon Faculty Research Award. The award, given annually by Brown’s Office of the Vice-President for Research, was established to support excellence in scholarly work by providing funding for selected faculty research projects of exceptional merit with preference given to junior faculty who are in the process of building their research portfolio.
Asked to situate his research, Malte explains that comprehensive data protection laws such as the European Union's recent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) better protect citizens' sensitive data, but impose a high cost for compliance on organizations that operate digital services. The expense, he says, comes partly because retrofitting compliance onto current computer systems is difficult, manual, and time-consuming.
"In this project," Malte tells us, "we seek to understand where current software abstractions and common practices come into conflict with laws like the GDPR, and to develop new computer systems designs that address these problems and make data protection a primary design concern. One example will restructure the databases that web services use today as federations of per-user micro-databases. Users can add or remove their personal micro-database at any time, and all data related to them are stored in their personal micro-database. Applications – such as a social network or an e-commerce site – then combine different users' micro-databases into what database literature calls 'views' computed over their combined information (e.g. a list of top rated posts). These views and the derived information they contain change automatically as the underlying set of micro-databases changes (e.g. because a user unsubscribes her data). One of the major challenges for this research is to design and build software systems that can build and maintain such views over hundreds of thousands or millions of micro-databases with the same performance that today's software delivers over a single database."
Malte hopes to build a Brown-based research group that turns this idea into a real system, and to build collaborations both with industry and non-CS academics interested in data protection. Currently, Brown has isolated centers of interest in data protection legislation and its impact, but this effort will seek to bring them together.
"This project," Malte says, "will unite these groups, introduce industry and off-campus perspectives, establish Brown as a household name in this emerging field of research, foster interdisciplinary thinking in the Brown spirit, and seek to create new technology that makes data protection a primary design goal."
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