HKBU-led Secure Data Sharing and Analytics Research Project Awarded HK$6.7 Million Funding

11 Jan 2022
(From left) Professor Jianliang Xu, Principal Coordinator of the research project and Head of Department of Computer Science, HKBU and Professor Xiaowen Chu, Co-Principal Investigator and Professor of Department of Computer Science, HKBU.
Professor Jianliang Xu, Professor Xiaowen Chu and the research team.

A secure data and analytics research project led by Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) has been granted HK$6.7 million by the Collaborative Research Fund (CRF) of the Research Grants Council (RGC) in the 2021-22 exercise.

“This is the first project funded by CRF on the topic of secure data sharing and analytics. It is a good recognition of our research excellence and leadership in big data and blockchain technology,” Professor Jianliang Xu, Principal Coordinator of the research project and Head of Department of Computer Science, HKBU.

Titled User-controlled Secure Data Sharing and Analytics with Blockchain and Trusted Computing Technologies, the project focuses on developing new blockchain and trusted computing technologies to enable user-controlled data sharing, searches, and analytics.

“We are now in the Digital Age. Every day we have a lot of data generated in our work, life and society. Data has become the most valuable resource as oil was in the past,” said Professor Xu. “To unlock the value of data, data sharing is the key.”

For instance, sharing medical records with relevant stakeholders, can improve the quality of patient care, reduce insurance fraud and enhance scientific research. However, users are often reluctant to share their data today because of privacy concern and lack of incentive, and data sharing needs to comply with privacy laws and regulations.

To achieve secured data sharing, most current systems take the server-centric data sharing approach, and data is collected into a centralised database in the cloud for secured data storage and sharing. However, with growing cyber security threats, those cloud systems cannot fully address security and privacy concerns. Cloud security breaches are common even in big companies, such as Apple’s iCloud, Instagram and Facebook.

This research project proposes a brand new perspective of user-centric data sharing approach to give control back to users, allowing data owners to fully control the sharing and access of their data, so as to eliminate users’ privacy concerns, increase their willingness to share data, and break data silos, said Professor Xu.

For instance, the research finding can be applied to the data sharing of COVID-19 vaccine passport, enabling users to control different levels of details the users want to share with different parties. When going to the restaurant, the users can just show their vaccine records without disclosing other personal details.

“We are leveraging blockchain technology to support decentralised and trusted data storage with no central server needed. The immutability and transparency features of blockchain can also incentivise data sharing,” said Professor Xu, adding the project will also collaborate with HKBU Clinical Division and industry partners to build prototype system and conduct a case study on medical health data sharing and analytics.

The new solution will fundamentally change the way we share data today. “Nowadays, data is very valuable, but there’re concerns about data privacy. Our research findings from this project can motivate people to share their data safely without privacy concerns,” says Professor Xiaowen Chu, Co-Principal Investigator and Professor of Department of Computer Science, HKBU.

“Also, our marketplaces can further gather a lot of data. Based on the collective data, we can do data analytic and AI in a better way. Basically, our finding can remove the obstacles of data security and privacy issue. Eventually, it will benefit everyone.”

Administered by the RGC, the CRF aims at encouraging research group in UGC-funded universities to engage in collaborative research across disciplines and across universities with a view to enhancing the research output of universities in terms of the level of attainment, quantity, dimensions and speed. CRF is one of the most competitive research grants in Hong Kong. The awarded projects have gone through rigorous review processes.

The collaborating institutions of this project are Hong Kong Baptist University, City University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.