Microsoft Research New England Turns 3: Jennifer Chayes Reveals Its First Product-and Collaborations With Bing, Facebook, and Twitter

7/7/11Follow @gthuang

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across Web, mobile, and tablet platforms. One recent presentation from Athey’s group was titled “Will the Internet Destroy the News Media?”

“It’s very interesting to watch, and it’s actually very disturbing,” Chayes says. “Somebody’s going to have to pay for this content. There’s tremendous use of this content, but the way the money’s flowing is undermining the quality of the content.” (You’re preaching to the choir, Dr. Chayes.)

In another part of the lab, senior researcher danah boyd (she doesn’t capitalize her name) is studying the societal and cultural impact of social media. One example is understanding in a deeper way how young people view privacy. In an era when kids seem to share everything with everybody online, it turns out “privacy to them is their parents not knowing about it,” Chayes says. Another research question is whether the laws and regulations around things like “sexting” and bullying are proportional to the damage they cause, she says—and how to bring the two in line.

Lastly, boyd has been working with Microsoft’s digital crimes unit on ways to identify child pornography online using advanced image processing software. Chayes says boyd has been talking with Twitter and Facebook representatives, as well as Microsoft’s legal experts, about ways that children should be protected (or not) online. And in an interesting sign of an evolving partnership with Facebook, in which Microsoft invested $240 million back in 2007, Microsoft Research has provided its child-pornography-finding software to the social-networking giant, Chayes says.

At heart, Chayes is a researcher and academic leader whose chief concern seems to be making an impact in various fields, and creating an environment where unique connections will continue to be made across disciplines and knowledge advanced. But while it’s still early days for the lab, it also sounds like Microsoft Research New England is doing a fair amount of work that’s directly relevant to the company’s business—and that of its rivals and partners.

It also speaks to tectonic changes going on in the world today around social media, privacy, security, health, and more. What Chayes’s charges learn, and how they bring that knowledge to bear on Microsoft’s products and the world in general, will be fascinating to watch.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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