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UOC research on managing personal data included in Spanish university science exhibition

  DECODE project

Foto: DECODE project

The European project DECODE is one of seven projects featured in new exhibition: Campus Vivo. Investigar en la Universidad

The 3rd Campus Vivo. Investigar en la Universidad (Living Campus. University Research) exhibition is now open at the National Museum of Science and Technology (MUNCYT) in A Corua, Spain. The museum experience showcases seven university research projects, one of which is DECODE, a European project developed, among other institutions, by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). The project aims to produce digital solutions that give citizens greater control over their personal data and allow society to use this type of information to its benefit.

 

Managing our data and tapping into their collective potential

The UOC and Barcelona City Council have been taking part in DECODE since 2017, joining the effort initiated by 13 other academic institutions and organizations from around the continent. Museum-goers stopping by the MUNCYT exhibition will have the chance to learn about the project and get a glimpse at its finer details.  DECODE, which receives funding from the EU Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020, aims to respond to citizens' growing concerns about the loss of control over their personal data due to society's increasing reliance on the internet. With five million euros in its pocket, the research initiative has given rise to tools that citizens can use to manage and individually and collectively benefit from their personal data. In fact, DECODE is framed within the European programme Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovations (CAPS), which is working to devise digital solutions and models to overcome collective challenges. Those interested can click here to download and test out the new technology for free via the mobile app.

The two UOC research groups involved in DECODE belong to the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3). They are Tecnopoltica-Communication Networks & Social Change (CSNC) and Digital Commons (Dimmons). Antonio Calleja, research at Tecnopoltica-CSNC, said: "[The project] marks a first step towards brainstorming and exploring technological, legal, social and economic alternatives to the model of data production, management and exploitation backed by big businesses such as Google and Facebook and governments like China's." According to the researcher, the project offers "a new lens through which to observe reality, one that allows us to analyse the limitations, threats and injustices arising in digital societies, in order to promote a critical outlook and, in parallel, provide alternatives based on technological sovereignty and digital commons".

Calleja explained further: "We are constantly generating data, which are collected by the smart devices present everywhere around us and may be used to influence personal opinions and social processes. A common example revolves around Cambridge Analytica, a company which illicitly exploited the personal data of millions of Facebook users in an attempt to sway the presidential election in Donald Trump's favour and influence the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Another example is the Chinese social credit system, which assigns citizens a point value depending on their behaviour as a way to shape their actions." The researcher had this to say by way of conclusion: "DECODE's target is far beyond that of initiatives which focus on individuals and the commercialization of their data, as well as those which turn to technocratic approaches to manage and control citizens' data, a common practice in open data projects put forth by public institutions. We're only at the beginning, but DECODE's target is a model that enhances autonomy, democracy and shared assets."

 

Technology to favour citizen participation in Barcelona 

Barcelona tested out the DECODE tools in a pilot participatory process called Digital Democracy and Data Commons (DDDC). The tools were integrated into software created by Decidim, a digital participation platform used and promoted by Barcelona City Council, as well as over 150 other city councils, public institutions and social organizations across the globe, to streamline democratic processes. Ricard Espelt, the Dimmons researcher who attended the opening of the Campus Vivo exhibition, said: "Thanks to DECODE's infrastructure, Decidim users can view, manage and share their data. The project has allowed us to enhance transparency, privacy and collective intelligence surrounding democratic processes, thereby improving network society politics."

The researcher added that, with DECODE, "we are developing technological, legal, social and economic tools that enable us to decide who uses our data, when and for what purpose. We are working on a sovereign, shared digital economy model in which control over data and any benefits derived therefrom fall into the hands of the individuals and communities producing them". 

 

The exhibition

The exhibition showcasing the DECODE project is the result of a collaboration between the Scientific Dissemination and Culture working group (known as RedDivulga) from Crue Universidades Espaolas's RDI sectoral committee, the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) and the MUNCYT. The idea is to give citizens a glimpse into the research being carried out at Spanish universities by showcasing a few specific projects.

The 3rd Campus Vivo exhibition, open until the end of this year, will highlight seven projects in total. Apart from DECODE, they include Orgenes en el Altiplano granadino (The Origins of the Altiplano of Granada, University of Granada); Cuerpo y mente: el tamao tambin importa (Body and Mind: Size Matters Too, University of Burgos); Fabricacin aditiva avanzada y clulas madre para generar tejidos cardiacos teraputicos (Advanced Additive Manufacturing and Stem Cells for Generating Therapeutic Cardiac Tissues, University of Navarra); Geometra aplicada (Applied Geometry, University of A Corua); Fisiologa aplicada a esteros (Physiology Applied to Mudflats, University of Cdiz); and Imanes microscpicos que pueden salvarnos la vida (Microscopic Magnets that Can Save our Lives, University of the Basque Country - Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea).  The exhibition was curated by Isabel Ruiz de la Pea Gonzlez, director of Research Promotion and Dissemination at the University of Oviedo.

 

Reference papers

Calleja-Lpez, A. (2019). «Ms all del capitalismo de la vigilancia democracia digital y datos comunes (DDDC)». Tecnopolitica.net. Disponible en https://tecnopolitica.net/es/content/m%C3%A1s-all%C3%A1-del-capitalismo-de-la-vigilancia-democracia-digital-y-datos-comunes.

Fuster Morell, M.; Espelt, R. (2019). «A framework to assess the sustainability of Platform Economy: The case of Barcelona ecosystem». Sustainability, 11(22), 6450. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/su11226450.

Fuster Morell, M.; Espelt, R. (2018, 22-24 de agosto). «How much are digital platforms based on open collaboration? An analysis of technological and knowledge practices and their implications for the platform governance of a sample of 100 cases of collaborative platforms in Barcelona». En: OpenSym '18: Proceedings of the 14th International Symposium on Open Collaboration (pgs. 1-5). Artculo 26. Nueva York: Association for Computing Machinery. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3233391.3233970.

 

UOC R&I 

The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) are helping 21st-century global societies to overcome pressing challenges by studying the interactions between ICT and human activity, with a specific focus on e-learning and e-health. Over 400 researchers and 48 research groups work among the University's seven faculties and three research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), the eLearn Center (eLC) and the eHealth Center (eHC).

The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information:research.uoc.edu.

#UOCexperts

Antonio Calleja

Researcher with Communication Networks & Social Change (CNSC) research group

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Ricard Espelt

Researcher with Digital Commons (DIMMONS) research group

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