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Fordham Law’s CLIP Awarded Science Foundation Grant for Online Privacy Research


clip_webbannerFordham Law School’s Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP) has been awarded a National Science Foundation Frontier grant as part of the NSF’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program.

The total award of $3.75 million will support joint research on online privacy at Fordham, Carnegie Mellon, and Stanford universities over the next three-and-a-half years.

The research will address the challenge for Internet users to make sense of online privacy notices. The project brings together from the three universities an interdisciplinary team of experts from technology, linguistics, and law to develop tools that will combine natural language processing, machine learning, and crowdsourcing to analyze website privacy policies and translate them into user-friendly, readable formats.

“Online privacy policies are notorious for their unwieldy length and their befuddling complexity,” said Fordham Law School Professor Joel Reidenberg, founding academic director of CLIP, who will lead the Fordham research team. “Through this project, we aim to help users really understand what they are doing when they click that ‘I Agree’ button.”   

Reidenberg added that the results of the project “will also enable ‘sweeps’ of privacy policies over time to identify information that, from a legal and regulatory standpoint, can shape privacy policy decision-making.”  

Reidenberg and the CLIP team will provide a legal perspective on key features of website privacy policies, project surveys of users, and the development of new user interfaces. Ultimately, the joint research team envisions the development of an interface or browser add-on that can summarize the pertinent privacy characteristics of a website in a way that is easily understood. 

“This might be as simple as a letter grade,” Reidenberg said.

In addition to improving transparency online, researchers will have a new database to query, to further understand how companies approach privacy and how approaches change over time. The new database will open new avenues for public policy research.

— Stephen Eichinger


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