Author: Mike Dixon

Steering the HALL Research Agenda

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Organisations, policy makers, and researchers likely agree on one thing: data is valuable. Individuals are habitually being told that data generated by their behaviours and actions will be stored and analysed. But researchers’ access to this data is not always possible for privacy, security and confidentiality reasons; even if individuals are comfortable with sharing their data with researchers they likely have no recourse to do so. The right to store, see, and share your own data is not yet a guaranteed right; for that matter, it’s not even easy to do.

A revolutionary technology however hopes to liberate data, i.e., to give individuals access to their own data. This in turn fundamentally changes the relationship that researchers have with data providers. Instead of asking corporations and organisations for data, endlessly imploring corporate lawyers to allow the smallest of glances promising no ill-will, researchers will now be able to petition end-users directly. The beginning of this is the HAT and HALL.

What is the HAT?

The HAT is the result of a multi-year, multi-million sterling pound research project conducted across 6 UK universities to develop the technology that allows individuals to collect, consolidate, trade, and sell their personal data generated from Internet-enabled devices and services. It provides individuals with their own storage space for their own data; data generated from their homes (e.g., Internet-enabled smart meters and sensors, security, lighting, temperature control, etc), and from their behaviour and actions (e.g., fitness wearable devices and apps, finance apps, geo-location, calendaring, social media activity, retail loyalty card activity). Each individual owns their own data; they have their own server or a HAT, and can decide what to do with this data.

With a HAT, individuals can do several things with their data. First, they can claim their data to see what data organisations know about them. Second, they can organise the data, combining multiple sources of data in the first-ever hyperdata browser named Rumpel. Finally, individuals can trade, share, or otherwise sell their data to others on the MarketSquare, a public space with community members (including researchers) who can make offers for certain types of data. MarketSquare is the initial front door for what amounts to be essentially a new economy – the personal data economy. A key element of the HAT infrastructure is that it is open-source and governed by a community foundation; it is not part of a corporation.

What is HALL?

Without overstating its potential, the HAT infrastructure promises to change the internet and research. It enables individuals to store, mine and combine data that they generate in every aspect of their lives. Not only data generated for Internet-of-Things (IoT)-enabled devices, but also all online and offline transactional data that is collected can be claimed, stored, combined and offered by individuals. From a research standpoint, this combination of data is unprecedented. Finally, the HAT liberates data from the hands of the few corporations that own and develop platforms by forcing platform creators to collect data on the data generators’ terms.

Hat Living Labs (HALL) is the academic research arm of the HAT infrastructure. HALL provides an experimental environment or ‘sandbox’ in which interested researchers from any discipline can request permission to explore. The vision of HALL is to lead and guide research efforts in how personal data liberation within the HAT infrastructure can lead to empowerment of individuals and to the development of new services and markets, and how these might impact economic and policy changes.

What type of research are we talking about here?

The HALL team has identified two overarching types of research streams. First, we suspect there will be researchers interested in the goings-on of the HAT itself and how individuals act or interact on the HAT. For example, among the first of HALL- sponsored research is the CONTRIVE project in which researchers are exploring how different levels of trust and control influence individuals’ willingness to buy and sell different combinations of personal data.

Second, we believe there will be researchers interested in using the HAT to request for different combinations of data from users. Researchers could petition individuals’ data on the MarketSquare that can empirically test behavioural-based research questions. For example, researchers interested in fitness and diet behaviour could ask for data from people who have stored their fitness wearable data and diet journaling data. This data could be combined with geo-location, financial spending data, social media activity, health records, or grocery shopping behaviour, all depending on the individual’s willingness to provide their data. In addition, we suspect that some researchers will want to give HATs to participants as a way to record their data. Researchers could set up controlled experiments or interventions for which data could be automatically collected over time.

In both types of research, we feel that there are researchers in countless disciplines that could utilise the HAT infrastructure to aid their research. There may also be ways to use the HAT in research that we haven’t considered or that will develop as the IoT and other technology evolves and broadens.

How to get involved

Researchers interested in knowing more about HALL and HAT should follow the links above. We are in the process of developing procedures for research proposal approvals which starts here; we’ve already received several proposals and will be responding to them soon. Don’t hesitate to ask questions of me or any members of the HALL team by sending us an email at sswmg@warwick.ac.uk