Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Available

Department of Computer Science, University of St Andrews 

Tristan Henderson, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the Univnetwork-cablesersity of St Andrews is recruiting for a research fellow to work on a new Wellcome Trust funded project on predicting consent in online social network health research.

Online social networks (OSNs) such a s Facebook and Twitter are used by hundreds of millions of people daily. This popularity means that they form an attractive venue for health research, used both by patients for seeking support, and researchers seeking to gather data about behaviour. Studying people on such services is fraught with ethical challenges, however, owing to the sensitive nature of the topics being discussed. Concerns about privacy and surveillance mean that OSN users might not wish to share data with researchers, and researchers might inadvertently gather data to which consent had not been granted.

This new project will investigate whether it is possible to predict when social media users consent to share data with stakeholders, specifically in health research, such as researchers and clinicians. We aim to make the consent process better reflect the context in which data were created, and respect users’ preferences about which data should be made available to which stakeholders. For example, someone seeking support from their peers because they are anxious about an upcoming medical procedure might not want this shared with medical researchers, while they may want reports about the side effects of their medication to be made available to clinicians.

Our previous work shows that consent for sharing social media data with researchers is driven by the purpose of research. More recently we found that traditional `informed consent’ forms are insufficient for capturing willingness to share social media data. By applying a model based on “contextual integrity” we improve the accuracy of consent without burdening participants with consent requests, by detecting whether participants conform to social norms for sharing data with researchers.

The research fellow will explore whether it is possible to extend our contextual integrity consent work to health research. It would be suited to someone with an HCI and ethics background, and/or with some experience in machine learning. The project is initially funded for one year through a Wellcome Trust Seed Award, but these awards are intended to lead to full multi-year follow-on projects.

The full details can be found on the St Andrews vacancies web site. Informal queries are welcomed by e-mail to The closing date is 30 June 2016.