Dublin, Ireland: Meta (formerly Facebook) has announced it is investing half a million euros with Irish institutions for research projects into privacy protection, data sharing and data governance. The projects will form part of Empower, an academic and industry research programme run by four SFI Research Centres: Lero, Insight, FutureNeuro and ADAPT.

As technology evolves and our lives become increasingly digitised, it is important that private and public organisations are being transparent and open about their data practices. The research projects will look at current data governance and privacy protection systems to identify gaps and opportunities to ensure that evolving privacy standards and protections are effective, inclusive and fair. Meta is investing in this area of research as the company believes people should be confident that their data is protected, being shared responsibly and that they have meaningful options to access, delete, and move it.  

Empower is a new academic and industry research programme, designed to future proof EU data flows and drive innovations in data protection internationally. This four-year research programme forms part of the SFI Spokes Programme, a mechanism designed to allow multiple SFI Research Centres to work together on projects of strategic national value that are funded equally by industry and the Exchequer. The Research Centres involved in Empower share a strong culture of academic-industry collaboration with companies across sectors that are experiencing disruptive  transitions to data- and AI-driven business models.

One of the projects which will be funded under Meta’s investment, with the SFI ADAPT Research Centre for AI-Driven Digital Content Technology, aims to give partners in the healthcare data space a framework for understanding different regulatory and organisational policy constraints on data sharing and ensure that data is shared in a way that respects the rights and freedom of users. This research project is responding to one of the key priorities of the EU Data Strategy that looks to support better data flows within the EU. 

Another project with Insight at UCC, the SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, will look at advancing privacy-enhancing technology (PET) such as de-identification and anonymisation. Ultimately, this area of research aims to enhance people’s trust in privacy systems and enhance regulators’ ability to understand automated-decision and AI-powered systems, which will lead to better oversight of data-driven practices. 

Speaking about the collaboration, Director of Empower, Professor Markus Helfert of Maynooth University said: “The investment from Meta supports innovative research projects addressing significant challenges of data governance helping to realise Empower’s ambition of establishing leading practices in data governance. This will form the foundation, technologies and key approaches of a trusted global data ecosystem, with positive societal impact. As the amount of data increases, data ecosystems need to be governed effectively driving complex information supply chains.”

Dan Hayden, Director of Privacy Policy at Meta, said: “The role of technology in our lives and society is evolving faster than ever before. It is critical that we work hard to put privacy first and work with people at the forefront of emerging technologies and scientific understanding to find solutions to current and future industry challenges. We are delighted to be collaborating with leading Irish research institutions and investing in this important area of research.”

The Empower research programme will run for four years and was launched in November 2021. Data sharing is not part of the agreement and Meta will not be sharing data with Empower for these research projects.