Fordham Law

Fordham CLIP Awarded National Science Foundation Grant for Online Privacy Research

August 15, 2013

Fordham Law School announced today that the National Science Foundation has awarded a Frontier grant as part of the NSF’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace project to the Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP). The total award of $3.75 million will support joint research on online privacy at Fordham, Carnegie Mellon, and Stanford over the next 3 ½ 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 web site 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 understand how companies approach privacy, and how approaches change over time—which will open new avenues for public policy research.

For the first year of the project, Reidenberg will be working from Princeton, where he is the inaugural Microsoft Visiting Professor of Information Technology Policy.

Additional information

Full description of the project
Award page on NSF site
NSF press release