Stanford Medicine & Empatica, Google and Its Academic Partners Receive FPF Award for Research Data Stewardship
The second-annual FPF Award for Research Data Stewardship honors two teams of researchers and corporate partners for their commitment to privacy and ethical uses of data in their efforts to research aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. One team is a collaboration between Stanford Medicine researchers led by Tejaswini Mishra, PhD, Professor Michael Snyder, PhD, and medical wearable and digital biomarker company Empatica. The other team is a collaboration between Google’s COVID-19 Mobility Reports and COVID-19 Aggregated Mobility Research Dataset projects, and researchers from multiple universities in the United States and around the globe.
The FPF Award for Research Data Stewardship recognizes excellence in the privacy-protective stewardship of corporate data that is shared with academic researchers. The award was established with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a not-for-profit grantmaking institution that supports high-quality, impartial scientific research and institutions.
The first of this year’s awards recognizes a partnership between a team from Stanford Medicine, consisting of Tejaswini Mishra, PhD, Professor Michael Snyder, PhD, Erika Mahealani Hunting, Alessandra Celli, Arshdeep Chauhan, and Jessi Wanyi Li from Stanford University’s School of Medicine’s Department of Genetics, and Empatica. The project studied whether data collected by Empatica’s researcher-friendly E4 device, which measures skin temperature, heart rate, and other biomarkers, could detect COVID-19 infections prior to the onset of symptoms.
To ensure the data sharing project minimized privacy risks, both teams took a number of steps including:
- Establishing limits on the sharing and use of personal health information.
- Using a researcher-friendly version of Empatica’s E4 device that prevents the collection of geolocation data, IP address, or mobile International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) identifiers.
- Using QR codes to link participants to specific wearable devices to ensure that participant names and study record IDs would not be shared.
The second award honors Google for its work to produce, aggregate, anonymize, and share data on community movement during the pandemic through its Community Mobility Report and Aggregated Mobility’ Research Dataset projects. Google’s privacy-driven approach was illustrated by the company’s collaboration with Prof. Gregory Wellenius, Boston University School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health, Dr. Thomas Tsai, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Department of Surgery and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management, and Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health. This group of researchers used the shared data from Google to assess the impacts of specific state-level policies on mobility and subsequent COVID-19 case trajectories.
Google ensured the protection of this shared data in both projects by:
- Anonymizing the Mobility Reports through differential privacy, which intentionally adds random noise to metrics in a manner that maintains both users’ privacy and the accuracy of the data.
- Requiring that Google review all publications using these data sets to ensure the researchers describe the dataset and its limitations correctly, and that the researchers do not inadvertently re-identify any individual users.
- Developing strict privacy protocols agreements and partner criteria for the Agg-epi dataset.