Thursday, December 10, 2020

Protecting Canadians' health without compromising their privacy

A woman wearing a mask looks at her smartphone.

By Meghana Anthannagari. This article was originally featured on Waterloo Stories.

Beyond washing your hands and wearing a mask, experts say the formula for curbing the spread of COVID-19 is a combination of contact tracing, policy considerations and altering methods of data collection.

Leaders in mathematics, physical and social sciences, engineering, law and policy tapped into these issues at Waterloo’s Data and Privacy During a Global Pandemic Conference. Alongside Waterloo experts, speakers from Wilfrid Laurier University, University of Toronto, University of Ottawa, Microsoft and government agencies participated.

For the first time, Dr. Vivek Goel, president-designate for the University of Waterloo, joined the Waterloo talks. Dr. Goel is currently involved with helping Canada’s Public Health agency develop a Pan-Canadian Health Data strategy.

“The solutions to these challenges are not just going to come from technology, they have to include social, political dimensions, (shifting) attitudes and engagement with the population,” Dr. Goel highlighted.

Minimizing risk through an app

Professor with the Department of Psychology, Igor Grossman, weighed-in on Canada’s notification app, which uses exposure data collection to curb the spread of COVID-19. COVID Alert claims to help break the cycle of infection, while letting others know of possible exposure before symptoms arise.

After analyzing the app’s popularity amongst residents, Grossman identifies the most dramatic differences between those who choose to install the app versus those who don’t is their trust in government.

To address these challenges, Grossman proposes, “providing any disclaimers related to the app, may actually increase trust in its functionality. We need to combat misinformation, re-establish trust and focus on transparency.”

So far nine provinces and territories are onboard with using the app and introduced it to its residents. More than five million Canadians have downloaded COVID Alert, however this number is relatively low compared to the nine provinces/territories’ overall population.

“We want to think about how we are going to deliver the message to Canadians more effectively, “suggested Professor Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher, specializing in rhetoric and science communication. “Thinking about what kind of communicators, other than Public Health officials, who can cater to particular audiences is important.”

Looking out for your neighbours

A low download rate mitigates the usefulness of the app, impairing the ability of researchers to conduct relevant and significant public health research.

Professor of Economics and Director Master of Public Service, Anindya Sen, seeks to balance between the need for privacy and collecting data to contain the virus is needed.

“Policy-makers are working on knowledge gaps themselves, they might have misinterpreted preferences that Canadians value privacy over anything else. We now have less tolerant predictive models, limiting policy prescriptions- resulting in higher infections.

Many panelists proposed an added feature that allows users to check in on the number of COVID cases in their own neighborhood, while limiting their access to their region or city only. If a user tests positive, the app may be able to provide information on areas they visited over the last two weeks.

Users can choose to disclose this information to a case manager, for an enhanced contract tracing system.

Waterloo’s Data and Privacy During a Global Pandemic Conference was organized by the Master of Public Service Policy & Data Lab and GEDI and sponsored by the Waterloo Cybersecurity & Privacy Institute.

Library Strategic Plan 2020-2025: Your partner in learning, research, and innovation

A graphic representation of the three key areas for the Library's strategic plan.

A message from the Library.

The University of Waterloo Library is pleased to share its strategic plan 2020-2025. This plan presents our strategic priorities, revised mission and values statements, and a new vision statement to both anchor and chart our direction for the future.

As an integral partner across campus, the Library enables change daily as we drive discovery in a rapidly evolving information landscape. Waterloo’s unique character calls for a library that is agile to continuously transform approaches to the creation, discovery, use, sharing, and preservation of information that is open and equitably accessible. The urgency of an agile approach to support learning and research across disciplines is heightened by our shared pandemic experiences.

The Library’s strategic plan focuses on three key impact themes — Catalyzing Learning and Research, Engaging with Our Community, and Growing as a Learning Organization — and presents 10 goals, 3 of which make up our strategic commitments:

  • Equip scholars to navigate complex information
  • Re-envision spaces and programs to maximize impact
  • Empower staff to advance library services for learner success

As you review this plan, we welcome and look forward to your feedback. Please share your comments, suggestions and questions with us by emailing

Professor raises $3.75M for blockchain startup

This article was originally published on the School of Computer Science website.

Axelar, a decentralized network that connects application builders with blockchain ecosystems, applications and users, has raised $3.75 million USD in seed funding from Silicon Valley investors, including DCVC, a San Francisco–based venture capital firm specializing in deep tech, and notable blockchain companies and investors such as Binance X, Lemniscap, Collab+Currency, North Island Ventures, Divergence Ventures, Cygni Labs, and others.

Since the seminal Bitcoin whitepaper in 2008, blockchain systems have quickly gained popularity and adoption. They’re used as digital ledgers for digital currencies as well as many other applications where an immutable ledger is needed to keep track of records and transactions securely.

Despite their many uses, blockchains are at an early stage of development and many core infrastructure elements are still missing. A particularly important element for their widespread adoption is the ability to connect different blockchain systems. This is precisely what Axelar is working to solve — building a network, along with the protocols and tools, to easily connect different blockchain ecosystems.

Axelar’s core team includes Sergey Gorbunov, professor at the Cheriton School of Computer Science and co-founder and CEO of Axelar, as well as experienced engineers and computer scientists, among them University of Waterloo alumni Christian Gorenflo and Gus Gutoski. With the $3.75 million USD in funding just secured, Professor Gorbunov and his team will further accelerate project development.

“We are delighted to receive backing from such a high-calibre group of investors,” Professor Gorbunov said. “This support will be crucial to help us accelerate our roadmap and to scale cross-chain communication. The protocols and networks we’re building are as foundational as those developed during the early days of the Internet. Blockchain space is still young, and there are a lot of interesting problems to work on. The University of Waterloo and the tech hub around it are great places to build deep-tech companies, and we’re thankful for the support we’re receiving from the community.”

The Axelar protocol, developed Professor Gorbunov and the Axelar team, is powered by a decentralized network and is designed to connect blockchain ecosystems even if they speak different languages. The network and tools built on top of it will allow developers who want to build decentralized applications to simply leverage cross-chain features and communicate with programs on other platforms.

Thursday's notes

A happy family.

The University of Waterloo's Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) program provider, Homewood Health, is publishing a series of articles entitled "Life Lines" meant to support employees' mental health and wellness. Two of the most recent bulletins include:

Martha Fauteux.St. Jerome’s University is congratulating Martha Fauteux, recently-retired director of SJU's Campus Ministry, on being granted a Papal Honour, the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, by Pope Francis. Fauteux joins a group of people including a priest and several parishioners in the Diocese of Hamilton receiving papal recognition.

The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross was instituted by Pope Leo XIII on July 17, 1888, in memory of his golden jubilee in holy orders. It was awarded to the men and women who had made a significant contribution to the success of the jubilee and the associated Vatican Exposition. It was made a permanent distinction only in October 1898 and rewards both clergy and lay persons for outstanding service to the Pontiff or the Catholic Church.

The full story is on the St. Jerome's University website.

Upcoming office closures

Organizational and Human Development (OHD) and Human Resources (HR) will be in an all-day department meeting on Friday, December 11.

Link of the day

International Human Rights Day

When and Where to get support

Students can visit the Student Success Office online for supports including academic development, international student resources, leadership development, exchange and study abroad, and opportunities to get involved.

Instructors can visit the Keep Learning website to get support on adapting their teaching and learning plans for an online environment.

Updated Course templates are now available within your course in LEARN to help you build and edit your content and assignment pages quickly. Support for Winter 2021 is available.

The following workshops, webinars, and events are offered by the KL team (CTE, CEL, ITMS, LIB):

Independent Remote Course Design Essentials. Self-directed, continuous self-enrollment course in LEARN.

Remote Course Design Essentials, beginning Wednesday, November 11. 

Getting Started in LEARN, Thursday, December 10, 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.  

Employees can access resources to help them work remotely, including managing University records and privacy of personal information. Here are some tips for staying healthy while working from home.

Stay informed about COVID cases on campus by consulting the COVID case tracker.

Whether you’re student or faculty, the Writing and Communication Centre has virtual services and programs to help you with your academic writing needs. 

  • Undergraduate students - come brainstorm, draft, revise and polish your assignments with us by meeting with one of our writing and multimodal communication specialists at a virtual appointment. Chat with our awesome peer tutors at our virtual drop-ins, PJ-friendly writing groups and Instagram Live Q&As. Or check out our online workshops at anytime, anywhere.
  • Graduate students - meet with one of our advisors at any step of the process at our virtual appointments. Take an online workshop at anytime, or join a virtual writing session at our Virtual Writing Cafés and #WaterlooWrites groups.
  • All UWaterloo instructors and faculty can request and access WCC workshops for use in your courses. You can also join a virtual writing group, or speak with a writing advisor about a writing project.

We understand that these circumstances can be troubling, and you may need to speak with someone for emotional support. Good2Talk is a post-secondary student helpline based in Ontario, Canada that is available to all students. If you feel overwhelmed or anxious and need to talk to somebody, please contact the University’s Campus Wellness services, either Health Services or  Counselling Services. You can also contact the University's Centre for Mental Health Research and Treatment.

The Library has published a resource guide on how to avoid information overload.

The Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo (FAUW) continues to advocate for its members. Check out the FAUW blog for more information.

The University of Waterloo Staff Association (UWSA) continues to advocate for its members. Check out the UWSA blog for more information.

The Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre facilitates the sharing of Indigenous knowledge and provides culturally relevant information and support services for all members of the University of Waterloo community, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, staff, and faculty.

WUSA supports for students:

Food Support Service food hampers are currently available from the Turnkey Desk on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the Student Life Centre. If you have any questions please email us at

The Bike Centre – Now open by appointment for your bicycle repair and rental needs in the Student Life Centre. 

Centre for Academic Policy Support - CAPS is here to assist Waterloo undergraduates throughout their experience in navigating academic policy in the instances of filing petitions, grievances and appeals. Please contact them at More information at

WUSA Commissioners who can help in a variety of areas that students may be experiencing during this time:

WUSA Student Legal Protection Program - Seeking legal counsel can be intimidating, especially if it’s your first time facing a legal issue. The legal assistance helpline provides quick access to legal advice in any area of law, including criminal. Just call 1-833-202-4571

Empower Me is a confidential mental health and wellness service that connects students with qualified counsellors 24/7. They can be reached at 1-833-628-5589.

When and Where (but mostly when)

Healthy Warriors at Home. Free programming including Online Fitness, Health Webinars, Personalized Nutrition and more from Warriors Athletics and Rec. Open to students, staff, faculty and alumni. Register today.

Renison English Language Institute continues to offer virtual events and workshops to help students practice their English language skills.

Warriors vs. Laurier Blood Donation Battle, until December 2020. Join your fellow Warriors, donate blood and help us win the Blood Battle against Laurier for a second year in a row. Set up a profile or add the PFL code: UNIV960995 to your account if you have a account already. Questions? Contact

University Christmas Project is seeking sponsors for clothing and gifts for children in need. Contact Christian Girodat at for information on how to participate.

Take the UN75 survey. Waterloo International is asking the Waterloo community to fill out a survey to gather your perspectives about the state of global governance and where it should be headed. If you have questions, contact Aisha Shibli.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, Wednesday, November 25 to Friday, December 10.

12 Days of Mindfulness, Tuesday, December 1 to Saturday, December 12. Refocus, recharge and reduce stress with your fellow Warriors by following @WlooRec on Instagram for daily practices. #12DaysOfMindfulness Check it out today.

WaterTalk: From planetary boundaries to ecosystem services: Guiding development on a changing planet, presented by Professor Elena Bennett, Thursday, December 10, 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Examinations on Sunday, Sunday, December 13.

Research Talks: Mapping the human brain an online panel discussion exploring cognition, behaviour, and degenerative disease, Tuesday, December 15, 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Register to receive a link to this virtual event.

Faculty panel: Making the Most of Your Mid-Career Years, Tuesday, December 15, 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Please register to get the link.

Portfolio & Project Management Community of Practice (PPM CoP) session, "Picking the right projects and getting them started" Wednesday, December 16, 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Register for this event.