New centre launched to keep citizens safe online

Creative digital blue business interface on blurry background

A new research centre announced today, 14 October 2020, will develop a wide range of tools to keep people safe and informed online.

The tools include automated tools to flag online harms in social media and a map to identify and avoid different threat such as fraud or disinformation.

Researchers at the National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence online (REPHRAIN), will also develop new methods to protect against micro-targeting, a tactic used to gather data about individuals, and a Data Advice Bureau to help citizens navigate online spaces safely.


REPHRAIN is supported by £7 million of funding from UK Research and Innovation’s Strategic Priorities Fund.

The centre brings together researchers from:

  • University of Bristol
  • University of the West of England, Bristol
  • The University of Edinburgh
  • University of Bath
  • King’s College London
  • University College London.

They will work with partners across industry, policy and the third sector to develop measures to empower individual citizens regarding their privacy and online safety.

Researchers will explore the differing online harms to which diverse groups of people can be exposed, the effectiveness of privacy and online safety measures, and how to balance risks while improving citizens’ ability to participate fully in the growing digital economy.

A novel toolbox

Measures to be developed will include a world-first Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) testbed to assess the technical effectiveness and usability of measures to ensure privacy and reduce online harm.

As part of the REPHRAIN Toolbox – a one-stop shared set of resources – this testbed will allow PETs to be developed, deployed and evaluated by researchers, practitioners, policy- makers and regulators.

Researchers will also develop a map to guide citizens, policymakers and researchers on solutions to different privacy and online harm issues and to act as a blueprint for future certification of online products and services, signposting privacy and harm measures and their efficacy.

Planning for the future

The centre will support 25 inaugural projects, to take place at the five founding UK universities and stakeholder organisations, to conduct valuable further research in this area.

A capability fund will allow the centre to support the activities of academic and non-academic stakeholders beyond the founding members, growing REPHRAIN’s capabilities and outputs, further enhancing the UK’s capacity in protecting citizens online.

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