A new online safety centre of excellence and six new research projects across the UK will help people seize the possibilities of the digital revolution while addressing challenges to online safety and privacy.
The initiatives are part of a £29 million investment by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and include projects to test how immersive technology can improve people’s education and explore how the Internet of Things can benefit people’s lives and improve their wellbeing.
The package includes £7 million from UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund for a new National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence online (REPHRAIN) bringing together researchers from the universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Bath, King’s College London and UCL.
REPHRAIN will also work with industry, academics and the voluntary sector to develop new technologies to help human moderators tackle the spread of online disinformation and identify harms linked to online targeting and manipulation.
The centre will develop a world-first Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) test site to trial new ways to boost data privacy.
“The UK’s world-renowned universities and fast-growing safety tech sector are coming up with answers to the important questions of the digital age – around privacy, security and online wellbeing,” said Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage. “With this investment we are supporting organisations to build trust in the technology of tomorrow so people and businesses can use it to improve their lives and boost the economy.”
The government is investing in this research as part of efforts to support the UK’s burgeoning safety tech sector which is creating solutions such as automated content moderation to tackle online harms including disinformation and providing age-appropriate experiences for users.
“We rely on technology for so many things in our lives – from paying our bills and buying our weekly food shop to tackling climate change and finding new treatments for diseases. We must continue investing so we can keep pushing the boundaries of technological developments that improve our daily lives and transform industries,” said Minister for Science, Research and Innovation Amanda Solloway. “The six new research centres will support our ambitious scientists and researchers to develop incredible innovations such as strengthening our online safety and delivering virtual education and healthcare, helping to cement the UK as a science superpower.”