Pri­vacy of users pro­tected by “anonymized” data survey

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Pro­fessor Albert-​​László Barabási and his team have done ground­breaking research into the nature of human mobility. The Uni­ver­sity is proud of that research, which was not merely accepted by the peer-​​reviewed journal Nature but won pride of place on the cover of its June 5 edition.

Unfor­tu­nately, one media report mis­char­ac­ter­ized the research team’s method­ology and cast asper­sions on its ethics, and that story has been cir­cu­lated widely online and in print.

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity takes issues of ethics and research pro­tocol very seri­ously, and the insti­tu­tion has appro­priate poli­cies in place to ensure the proper treat­ment of both human and animal subjects.

The press report alleging that Pro­fessor Barabási’s research did not pass any ethics reviews, how­ever, is com­pletely false.

The study relied on a sample from anonymized, aggre­gate billing data from cell-​​phone users in an uniden­ti­fied Euro­pean country. The Insti­tu­tional Review Board at the U.S. Office of Naval Research, which funded this study as part of a larger pool of research into human mobility pat­terns, reviewed the pro­posal in June 2007 and deter­mined that it did not involve human subjects.

Pro­fessor Barabási spent a good deal of time in the course of study ensuring that the pri­vacy of the cell-​​phone users was not breached, and he and co-​​investigators par­tic­i­pated in ethics and pri­vacy training at the outset of the study.

Research exam­ining human mobility and the find­ings of this study in par­tic­ular will have sig­nif­i­cance for epi­demic fore­casting, emer­gency response, urban plan­ning and traffic engineering.

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity looks for­ward to more such notable and field-​​leading research from Pro­fessor Barabási in the future.

About North­eastern

Founded in 1898, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity is a pri­vate research uni­ver­sity located in the heart of Boston. North­eastern is a leader in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research, urban engage­ment, and the inte­gra­tion of class­room learning with real-​​world expe­ri­ence. The university’s dis­tinc­tive coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram, where stu­dents alter­nate semes­ters of full-​​time study with semes­ters of paid work in fields rel­e­vant to their pro­fes­sional inter­ests and major, is one of the largest and most inno­v­a­tive in the world. The Uni­ver­sity offers a com­pre­hen­sive range of under­grad­uate and grad­uate pro­grams leading to degrees through the doc­torate in six under­grad­uate col­leges, eight grad­uate schools, and two part-​​time divi­sions. For more infor­ma­tion, please visit www​.north​eastern​.edu.