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Balancing Open Information Access With Maintaining Privacy, Security and Reliability In the Age of Social Computing

Faculty Mentor: Monisha Pulimood

Students: Francisco Estevez & Shahzore Qureshi

Advances in technology have made it easier to collect and store massive amounts of data. However, it has become increasingly challenging for users to find pertinent, reliable, and current information, particularly for data related to social issues of concern to local communities, for example, environmental justice. SOAP (Students Organizing Against Pollution) is an initiative aimed at empowering citizens of New Jersey to learn, share, and contribute data about brownfields in the Trenton / Ewing area and encouraging them to become participants in advocacy and public policy deliberations on these issues. The main goal of this summer’s project is to investigate how crowdsourcing can be leveraged to make this data more reliable while maintaining the privacy and security of users’ personal information.

The web-based SOAP system is powered by a database that gets its data from the EPA and other official government websites. The system manages data concerning the location and status of brownfields, chemicals found at these sites, legislation related to the environment, and politicians who sponsor/vote on such bills. The system is integrated with social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, and the intuitive user interface includes an interactive map that allows the user to pinpoint locations of brownfields. Users can contribute their own findings to the website, which can be seen by other members as a newsfeed. SOAP embraces the latest trends in modern technology, such as mobile computing, cloud computing and HTML5, and has been designed to store as little information about users as possible to protect their privacy. Upon initial deployment of the system, it will be utilized by journalism students for reporting on environment-related issues. However, the long-term goal is for SOAP to be used by all citizens of New Jersey.

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