Week 4: Privacy and surveillance-- Discussion

The huge amounts of data collected by the apps we use, as well as the growing use of facial recognition and tracking data, have made privacy and surveillance particularly relevant issues right now.

Required Reading

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries et al (NYT), Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret

Phillip Rogaway, The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work

Alvaro Bedoya, Privacy and Civil Rights in the Age of Facebook, ICE, and the NSA

Maciej Ceglowski, The New Wilderness

Optional Reading

Lindsey Barrett, Our collective privacy problem is not your fault

Ciara Byrne, Trading privacy for survival is another tax on the poor

Zeynep Tufekci, The Latest Data Privacy Debacle

Tim Wu, How Capitalism Betrayed Privacy

Edited to add:

Here is the video of this week’s lecture. And here are a few more articles I highly recommend:

Chris Gilliard, Caught in the Spotlight

Forget about “privacy”: Julia Angwin and Trevor Paglen on our data crisis


As a big fan of Maciej, I’ll go ahead and throw in a couple of links if you want more after reading The New Wilderness: his talk “Haunted By Data” is excellent, and his Senate testimony does a great job breaking down the current state of data collection and privacy.


I wanted to share a few more great articles on this topic:

Caught in the Spotlight by Chris Gilliard (@hypervisible on twitter) contrasts “luxury surveillance” with “imposed surveillance.”

Forget about “privacy”: Julia Angwin and Trevor Paglen on our data crisis: interesting interview on why “privacy” may be the wrong way to frame these issues

Cute videos, but little evidence: Police say Amazon Ring isn’t much of a crime fighter: Ring promises to “make neighborhoods safer” by deterring and helping to solve crimes. But an NBC News Investigation has found — after interviews with 40 law enforcement agencies in eight states that have partnered with Ring for at least three months — that there is little concrete evidence to support the claim.


There is this important and quite recent piece of reporting from the New York Times that I wanted to share with you: The Privacy Project
I hope this helps.


There were a bunch of articles this past fall about how Tsunami Democràtic, a group advocating for a democratic referendum of self-determination in Catalonia, developed a widely used app to orchestrate mass protest in Catalonia. The protest app has a decentralized network and the makers are unknown. Technology like this offers another ray of hope that cryptography can be used to help communities of dissent maintain privacy and organize, thereby allowing marginalized voices to speak.

This article does a good job of describing the app and how it works. I would say, however, that the Catalans are overall very nonviolent people and they are widely known for nonviolent protest, so the descriptions of some of the protests as “furious” is a bit misrepresentative.

Catalonia has created a new kind of online activism. Everyone should pay attention

1 Like

The first piece discussing privacy (Ceglowski’s work), talks about tearing apart Facebook and Google. LinkedIn, like Facebook, has cracked “real identity.” What qualifies truly as “responsible AI” or data collection from those who have cracked “real identity” more or less, vs. social media platforms such as Reddit and Twitter (who may have multiple accounts or “fake” accounts or "anonymous accounts). The topic of anonymity or the right to be forgotten (death), or remaining anonymous is one that no one has solved quite yet on any platform.

In Rogaway’s piece he writes about his surprise about the youth not really thinking about the morality of the employers/institutions oft he jobs they were looking to apply to.
“I found on a Google search of deciding among job offers, not one suggests
considering the institutional goals of the employer or the social worth of what
they do.” what about the “do no evil” tenet by Google or new AI principles that rolled out, does that count or factor into decision making for prospective applicant engineers? I’m not sure if this is exactly a fair depiction, but what I would say is that many data scientists/engineers lack a foundation of ethics because people are obsessed with having enough data to be statistically significant to “science” or experiment upon in the first place for their jobs. It’s been an after thought, as with privacy and that data collection without parameters outside of biotech or bioethics or tech ethics I’ve found less parameters for a lot of other software B2C or B2B company’s involving data and a virtual identity without a bodily part to examine. He points towards technological optimists vs. pessimists and the optimists focus on context and that not everything in the world of tech should be seen with rose-colored glasses.

“People are often happy to get funding, regardless of its source. But I would
suggest that if a funding agency embraces values inconsistent with your own,
then maybe you shouldn’t take their money. Institutions have values, no less
than men. Perhaps, in the modern era, they even have more.”
So if someone was contracted to help Google with Responsible AI as a woman, would this be something they should decline because of centralization at Google even if there is a desire by leadership (Sundar Pichai) that there should be some form of regulation on AI to some extent?

I’m not sure that this is as black and white of an issue on “no working for any institutions with no values,” it seems polarizing with almost no middle ground for anyone. The suggestion “Think twice, and then again, about accepting military funding,” perhaps people may think twice, but many others may still conform. While there was much buzz about Project Maven and Dragonfly, talking to those involved directly may tell you something different than the news (instead of security, it’s just satellites in space one physicist told me, though from the last article by the New York Times, even scientists and engineers working there are not aware how their products they are developing are really being used potentially for mass surveillance.

1 Like

I wanted to share some privacy books I was recommended to ready (blockchain community in Berkeley/ZCash privacy webinar), there are others, happy to take a look! Not sure if this should be its own thread…

None of Your Damn Business: Privacy in the United States from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age

Complete opposing book
Don’t Unplug by Chris Dancy - noted as the most connected human alive, was previously homeless and doesn’t believe privacy is a thing


hey! here’s an article talking about the Grindr privacy issues I mentioned in class: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/28/us/politics/grindr-china-national-security.html


An additional article which references many examples we’ve already discussed in class but brings everything together in a way I appreciated: https://story.californiasunday.com/facial-recognition