If you are collecting informative data on people, groups, or societies in the process of doing business, enlisting independent academics to do research can help your company, your customers, your stockholders, and all of society. Although the data was collected originally to advance your business purposes, academics can often find ways of using it to solve some of society's greatest challenges. As a trusted third party, Social Science One and its special procedures have been designed to ensure this outcome while also meeting your own business objectives.
While privacy concerns are certainly justified in the wake of recent revelations (after all, the Cambridge Analytica scandal began with misconduct by an academic), now is precisely the time to solve this problem in an effort to restore trust. Social Science One has developed a new organizational structure that protects users’ privacy, insulates the process from individual researchers violating the rules, and empowers independent academics to advance the general good in a way that all may benefit.
If no such structures are developed, both academics and society at large will be hampered in seeking answers to some of society’s most pressing challenges, including, most immediately, the impact that social media has on democracy and elections. Meanwhile, the private sector, which is already hesitant to provide transparency, will continue to face mistrust and suspicion.
For datasets that raise no legitimate privacy concerns, data may be released publicly or with minimal safeguards, such as highly aggregated data that is already released by technology firms. For more sensitive datasets, more precautions will be put in place. For example, researchers may need to develop analysis code based on a synthetic data set and submit the code for automated (or manual) execution. We have been involved in highly intensive and extensive work covering privacy, security, legal, regulatory, technical, statistical, archival, computational, financial, and other components to make all this possible.
These procedures effectively change from a regime of individual responsibility, where scholars legally agree to follow the rules and the rest of the community hopes they comply, to one of collective responsibility, where multiple people are always checking and the risk of improper actions by any one individual is greatly limited.
Social Science One brings the efforts and talents of the scientific community to the table in studying some of the greatest challenges in modern times. In the case of the Facebook partnership, we intend for the research initiated by Social Science One to improve the understanding and operation of elections and democracy in nations worldwide. The task ahead is vast, the questions are important, the potential advances large and the range of knowledge that is possible significant.
We also plan to branch out to other subject areas and sources of data (either ourselves or by sharing insights in order that others can follow this model). We hope this enables the academic community to address some of the many other important challenges that affect humanity, including public health, medicine, wellbeing, friendship, and many others.
"The commission" is the "trusted third party mentioned above” In the case of the Facebook partnership, the commission is composed of (a) Gary King and Nathaniel Persily as co-chairs, acting like editors of a scholarly journal and (b) other members, acting like members of the journal's editorial board, but organized into methodological, substantive and regional committees. Different subsets of members (as needed, cross-cutting the committee structure) sign one of three levels of confidentiality agreement, with only the most restrictive of which has privileged access to proprietary information at Facebook and, as a result, foregoes grant applications and publication without pre-approval.
The commission is a unified structure and so it (although not every one of its members) has full access to the necessary datasets and information at Facebook needed to conduct research. The decision-making structure ensures that "the commission" can access whatever information it needs without unduly burdening its members or creating a security risk by having every single member access proprietary or privileged information that they don't necessarily need for a particular decision or analysis.