In the future, machine learning algorithms may examine our genomes to determine our susceptibility to maladies such as heart disease and cancer. Between now and then, computer scientists need to train the algorithms on genetic data, bundles of which are increasingly stored encrypted and secure in the cloud along with financial records, vacation photos and other bits and bytes of digitized information.

And there the data sits, full of potential but ultimately of little use to anyone but its owner.

That’s because encrypted data must first be decrypted before it can be used. But decrypted data is vulnerable to malicious attacks, which creates a tradeoff between data usability and security.

New research from Microsoft aims to unlock the full value of encrypted data by using the cloud itself to perform secure data trades between multiple willing parties in a way that provides users full control over how much information the exchange reveals.

“What we are trying to do is keep the data private and, at the same time, get the value out of it,” says Ran Gilad-Bachrach, a researcher in the Cryptography Research group within Microsoft’s research organization and co-author of a paper released in June that describes the protocol, or set of rules, for this system to securely exchange data.

Read more: Microsoft