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Network World - Harvard University and Yale University's football teams meet in Cambridge, Mass., this Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, for the 129th time in their history. Blood will be spilled, grass will be torn up, alums will reconnect and memories will be made. It's safe to say that not many in attendance will be thinking about the network and computing research efforts underway at these Ivy League schools, so we're here to give a quick rundown of some recent efforts as a sort of pre-game warmup.
*Really, really moving to e-voting.
A slew of Harvard researchers are exploring the potential for online elections, meaning everything from U.S. presidential elections to community voting for things like building a school vs. a pool. Among them is Lirong Xia, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Research on Computation and Society at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Computational scientists like Xia are looking at questions such as whether society would get a truer sense of the population's wishes if election ballots voted on via the Internet and if questions were spread out over multiple days. There might be some questions that are too difficult to vote on at the same time, such as those where the outcome of one question might affect how people would vote on other questions. Without online voting, "You can't say, 'Today you'll come in and vote on the first issue, and then we'll announce the result, and tomorrow you'll come back again and vote on the second issue.' That's too costly," he says. Online voting might also enable easier tabulation of a voting system that let citizens rank candidates, rather than choosing one from a field of two or more.
But of course major concerns about security and privacy have prevented widespread online voting from getting off the ground. Xia's research includes efforts in the area of computational complexity to discourage fraudulent voting behavior by making it if not impossible, at least difficult, initially for non-online voting.
(See also: "If the Internet's magic, why can't we vote on it," by Harvard's own Scott Bradner)
*Spreading the research wealth
Harvard is receiving a 4-year, roughly $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation's Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program to study and improve upon the privacy of research data online.
"The Internet and, in particular, social networking sites, provide an amazingly powerful platform for researchers to gather, mine, and share data on human behavior and interactions," says Salil Vadhan, a professor of computer science and applied mathematics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "Even with the best intentions and safeguards in place, however, the risk of personal information leaking out remains high."
The "Privacy Tools for Sharing Research Data" project will develop methods, tools and policies to take advantage of the data available but address the risks of dealing with it. They'll be looking at how researchers can share data they have access to locally or regionally, but perhaps not nationally or globally, and also at how to include access to data from commercial outfits, like Netflix or Facebook, without impinging on customer privacy.