Tech researchers win Google award

A team of Tech professors has been awarded a $1 million unrestricted award to research internet transparency from the Google Research Focused Award. The research award is to last about two years and a $500,000 extension is available if the research continues past two years.


College of Computer Science professors, Nick Feamster and Henke Lee lead the project and plan to collaborate with other professors in other departments at Tech such as Electrical Engineering and Public Policy. Post docs are being recruited at Tech, and one from the University of Oregon will be participating, too.


In Fall 2010, Zvi Galil, dean of the College of Computing, discovered the Google award and alerted Feamster and Lee of this opportunity. Lee believed his and Feamster’s research proposal won the award because they represent academia.
Internal researchers at Google are also researching similar ideas related to internet transparency. This idea has become a hot topic since the Egyptian upheaval earlier this year and its internet transparency issues.
“We are thrilled with Google’s support of our Internet transparency research,” Galil said.


This 2011 round of Google Research Focused Awards is the second year Google has provided these grants. Google grants these awards to areas of study that align with their key interests and the research community’s interests.
“The thing that’s really appealing about working with Google on this is that they have visibility into a very large number of users,” Feaster said. “They have a lot of resources available to them that we do not have.”


The research goals are to make the internet more transparent to the billion users worldwide. Feamster and Lee hope to develop a free tool that can measure the levels of censorship and explain the reasons for censorship on certain sites.

Simple versions of the tool have been installed and implemented in Google’s Chrome program, but this project hopes to further its abilities.


The research is divided into several stages. Feamster and Lee aim to first build the software tool, which will be the most difficult part.


“One of the challenging aspects about the tool we are trying to build is getting users to adapt to the tool. A lot of people will build tools, but getting the average user to actually use it on a continual basis [is the challenge],” Feamster said.
The research is projected to take a long time because it presents new ideas that haven’t been researched before.




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