Ryerson gets a big name for Big Data

Ann Cavoukian will begin her new role at Ryerson on July 1. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Ann Cavoukian will begin her new role at Ryerson on July 1. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian has been appointed as the executive director of Ryerson’s Institute for Privacy and Big Data.

The university announced Cavoukian’s appointment and the creation of the institute last Wednesday. Cavoukian will begin her role at Ryerson on July 1, after ending her third term as commissioner — spanning over 15 years. Her official launch will be in the beginning of the 2014 academic year.

Already a guest lecturer at Ryerson, this will be Cavoukian’s first official role with the university. “I think we’re really going to forge a lot of new ground and I want to make sure that privacy is embedded in the big data analytics and big data ventures that Ryerson embarks upon,” Cavoukian said.

Cavoukian said that in the long term she wants Ryerson to exceed the work of other universities and similar centres around the world.

“I’m hoping I can add to the existing base of extremely valuable research that already goes on at Ryerson in terms of privacy and cybercrime,” said Cavoukian. “I want this to be a true win-win proposition where Ryerson’s big data analytics excel.”

Cavoukian’s immediate goal is to establish new interdisciplinary research on emerging technology.
Ryerson’s privacy research institute is still in its early stages. It will be housed in the Faculty of Science, said faculty dean Imogen Coe.

The institute will place a high priority on curriculum development including specializations, master’s programs or graduate levels so students can be trained in data analytics and data science.

Both the data analytics and data science fields face employee shortages; a great opportunity for students. The institute will someday become university-wide so all faculties can participate, said Avner Levin, the director of the Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute at the Ted Rogers School of Management.

“We actually hope that we’re going to take what we have right now and fold it into this new organization we hope to create,” Levin said. By next year, Levin hopes to get in a proposal to bring together the Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute and the new institute.

“It’s not going to be an academic centre. It’s going to be a very real-world, career-driven centre,” Coe said.
It will also be home to a project called the Big Data initiative. Big data is a collection of digital information or instructions so large and complex it can’t be processed using traditional tools. The data is processed by alternative methods, which can leave gaps in privacy protection.

Researchers will develop technology that analyzes data with privacy protection, teach about privacy and big data and create an incubation platform for startup companies to utilize the new technology.

Coe said the institute could partner with hospitals or non-profit organizations in the future.

For now, Cavoukian said she hopes to bring both her experience as the Ontario commissioner, her own concept of embedding privacy into technology and her worldwide network to Ryerson.

“This is a global pursuit,” she said. “We’re going to have big data and very strong privacy embedded into the process. And that will set us apart and we will become an international star.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 26, 2014.

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