Protecting Canadians' health without compromising their privacy
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 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 email@example.com.
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.
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:
- Diversity and Inclusion: A Beginners Guide to the Holidays; and
- Staying Connected to Combat Loneliness and Isolation During the Holidays.
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.