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New research lab will focus on data privacy worldwide

November 18, 2009

Do you worry about the safety of the information you enter online when shopping or paying bills? Are you concerned that your employer has stored your social security number in the company's systems? A new research group at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University is dedicated to making sure businesses know how to protect your data and implement the needed measures.

"Organizations must be committed to maintaining employee and customer privacy," says associate professor of information systems Julie Smith David from the W. P. Carey School of Business, one of the new research group's founders. "This is really becoming an issue in the board room, as well as at people's personal computers. We all want to make sure our data isn't inappropriately shared or sold."

The new Privacy by Design Research Lab (PbD RL) will establish a virtual environment to work with industry leaders to create guidelines for businesses worldwide to use to effectively protect personal data. The researchers will also encourage organizations to use the new guidelines by offering educational materials and programs to train privacy consultants. In addition, the researchers will continue to monitor and improve techniques for data protection.

"Privacy assurance must ideally become an organization's default mode of operation," says W. P. Carey School of Business associate professor Marilyn Prosch, another founder of the group. "This is the first Privacy by Design ambassador program in the United States, and we want to work with both the public and private sectors to make a difference."

The group is already demonstrating a commitment to working internationally to strengthen privacy practices. Ann Cavoukian, creator of the Privacy by Design concept and the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, has been fundamental in establishing the new research group.

"I applaud ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business for its leadership role in establishing the first Privacy by Design Research Lab," says Cavoukian, who wrote two groundbreaking books on data privacy. "When technology and personal information intersect, privacy issues always arise. The future of privacy cannot be assured solely by compliance with regulatory frameworks. The objectives of Privacy by Design are twofold: for individuals, gaining personal control over one's information; for businesses, gaining a sustainable competitive advantage - It's win/win."

The Privacy by Design Research Lab will publish documents to help teach the business community about data privacy practices, including a risk assessment companies can use to evaluate themselves. It will also host monthly events with industry leaders, publish world-class academic journal articles, and hold a student contest to encourage new ideas on privacy practices.

Prosch formally announced formation of the PbD Research Lab at the 31st International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Madrid, Spain, earlier this month.

The initial research project will create practical guidance from the principles of Privacy by Design to aid companies and entrepreneurs seeking to create new products and services to meet the privacy expectations of their customers. This work is funded by a grant from The Privacy Projects (, a nonprofit research institute focused on supporting "evidence-based" privacy.

"The mission at ASU fits perfectly with our intention to fund and promote an effective architecture for privacy," says Richard Purcell, executive director of The Privacy Projects.

The research lab will be run out of the Center for Advancing Business through Information Technology (CABIT) at the W. P. Carey School of Business, which fosters collaboration between industry and academics. The research group's next event will be held Nov. 24 at Arizona State University's Tempe campus to announce more details. Cavoukian will be the featured speaker.