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Privacy and trust in children’s e-books is first focus for new £1.2m study of our future connected world

WMG at the University of Warwick have secured £1.2m grant funding from the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) to explore how decentralisation, personal data, and our Internet-connected possessions come together on the Hub of all Things (HAT) platform. The first focus of the WMG team’s project will be issues of privacy and trust in children’s e-books.

The WMG team’s Dynamic, Real time, On-demand Personalisation for Scaling (DROPS) project is a collaboration between academics at the universities of Warwick, Surrey, and the West of England. It will examine the privacy, trust, and identity issues that arise from the development of personalized e-books for children's reading. The researchers’ focus on children's reading is motivated by evidence that shows that despite the value of personalised e-books for learning and reading enjoyment, there is a lack of research that engages with the range of privacy issues that these technologies introduce.

Working with the HAT Community Foundation, a non-profit promoting the use of HAT micro-servers for decentralized, person-controlled personal data, the DROPS project will investigate the technology, business, economic, and legal models of personalisation in a newly decentralised digital economy.

The two-year project led by WMG at the University of Warwick will work with researchers in the Universities of Surrey, West England, and UCL’s Institute of Education and begin this summer. Its first initiative is to be the creation of a “ThingSpace,” a cloud-enabled digital environment where personal data owners (like Internet users who have a HAT micro-server for personal data control) can choose to put data from the things they own. Holding data in the ThingSpace would allow them to collaborate with organisations they trust so that the ‘thing’ can be personalised. The goal is to create decentralised models of personalisation in the era of the Internet of Things (IoT) that equitably benefit both the organisation and the person.

Children’s e-books will be the first Things in the ThingSpace, as DROPS works with children’s publishers such as and Kuato Studios Ltd. These publishers could use a child's HAT (their personal micro-server, held under the guardianship of their parent or caregiver) to collect reading data, which through dynamic signals and machine learning algorithms is fed back into the ThingSpace of the book they’re learning from, changing it to aid their learning. For example, a child struggling with ‘H’ as they read an e-book could turn the page to find a side story or a game that helps them practice that letter. DROPS will specially focus on early readers (children aged 5-8) who need to practice the associations between the textual and semantic meanings of words, a topic which can be usefully supported in the context of digital personalised reading.

Professor Irene NgWMG’s Professor Irene Ng, who leads the project as its Principal Investigator, said:

“Discovering new ways of engaging young children in reading with digital technology is critical and timely.There is a strong need to provide technological solutions that have parents and teachers in control of children’s personal data, and that allow publishers and producers of personalised reading resources to deliver, pedagogically beneficial reading products that also safeguard data privacy and security,”

She also said that:

“As the Internet has become more ubiquitous in our everyday lives, the centralised control of its most valuable assets (like data, privacy, and authority) has become very restricting. HAT micro-servers were built to give individual consumers a technology that they can personally, privately own, decentralising power away from the corporations that have developed the web as we use it today, while providing forward-looking organisations with new opportunities to benefit from more and higher quality personal data from their own customers.”


Notes for Editors:

DROPS is the latest in a series of cutting-edge research projects in the digital economy conducted by WMG’s Service Systems Group, which includes the RCUK-funded HAT, HARRIET and the EPSRC-funded HALL/Contrive projects. On DROPS, Professor Ng will work with Professor Glenn Parry, University of West England and Professor Roger Maull, University of Surrey, both of whom were Co-Investigators on the HAT and HALL/Contrive projects. Joining the DROPS team are UCL Institute of Education’s Dr Natalia Kucirkova who leads on the ESRC Future Leaders grant on personalised children's reading, and Dr Asimina Vasalou who is heading the iRead project on learning software for primary school children across Europe. To find out more about the DROPS project, please visit

The HAT is a decentralised person-controlled micro server for personal data storage, processing, AI and exchange, created through an earlier Digital Economy Research grant to give individuals the technological power to claim, own, control and share their data the way they want to, to make better and more informed decisions. The management of the HAT ecosystem was handed over to the HAT Community Foundation in Feb 2016 (see press release here).

TIPS is project of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which is now part of the newly formed UK Research and Innovation. In 2017 EPSRC called on researchers to submit proposals for projects that would further the understanding of Trust, Identity, Privacy and Security (TIPS) issues in the Digital Economy. The aspiration was to support interdisciplinary research, across the spectrum of technological, economic, cultural, social, legal, ethical, design, behavioural and political disciplines, to engage with those who use research outputs, from industry to charities to communities. Eleven projects have been successful and collectively will receive £11 million over the next three years.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. For more information visit