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ICO launches fourth and final phase of privacy innovation grants programme

17 February 2021

APPLICATIONS ARE open for the fourth and final round of funding for the Information Commissioner’s Office’s (ICO) current grants programme. The ICO committed to run the grants programme until 2021 and work is ongoing this year to review and report on its progress.

Now in its fourth year, the scheme supports independent research into privacy and data protection issues and develops privacy-enhancing solutions. It specifically focuses on projects that will make a real difference to the UK public.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham stated: “When I launched our grants programme in 2017, it was to encourage research and privacy innovation in significant areas of data protection risk. From the start, my office had a clear vision of a well-funded scheme that could have a genuine impact on the UK information rights environment and improve public trust in how personal data is used. I also wanted to see the programme giving a greater voice to some of the expertise and creative thinking I had seen in the UK’s academic and not-for-profit communities. As we launch the next phase of the programme, I would reflect that it has already successfully met those objectives.”

Projects previously funded through the grants programme include an online privacy toolkit for children created by Sonia Livingstone and her team at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a project that looked at the data rights of people experiencing homelessness.

Data protection law

The scheme has also supported research into the impact of data protection law on the use of pseudonymised genomic data in healthcare, along with projects that facilitated transparency around Artificial Intelligence, big data and machine learning.

Stephen Almond, director of technology and innovation at the ICO, commented: “I’m excited to be part of this ICO initiative to stimulate ground-breaking research into areas that affect our daily lives and online privacy. Innovation in data protection makes people’s lives better, whether it’s finding new ways to protect children and vulnerable individuals online through to improving homeworking practices or creating ways in which to safeguard people’s data protection rights in relation to complex biometric and surveillance technologies.”

Almond added: “The UK boasts a vibrant research community and, in this data-driven world, it’s important to us that we support privacy and data protection initiatives that address the issues of the day.”

Bidding process

Organisations are now invited to bid for a grant of up to £100,000 to support independent research and projects. The ICO is seeking proposals that meet one or more of the six strategic goals set out in the Information Rights Strategic Plan and provide a clear public benefit, with outputs that are open source and re-usable.

Examples of areas in which the ICO is interested include surveillance technologies, the ‘datafication’ of homeworking, digital identity, data sharing, smart cities, Artificial Intelligence, big data and data protection issues and solutions for vulnerable adults, groups at risk of inequality and children.

Further information about the grants programme, including eligibility, funding and outcome expectations, is available on the ICO’s grants programme hub. The hub also contains details and output from the completed and ongoing projects from previous rounds. It’s hoped that data protection professionals and academics alike will use these outputs to continue to innovate across the privacy sphere.