1.3 Privacy and Anonymity

Privacy is a very abstract concept, but many of us 'know it when we see it'. The social / ethical issue of privacy seems to be raised more and more as ever more sophisticated technologies develop and as awareness of data collection increases. The resources here deal with privacy in a wide range of areas from Health to Business, and beyond.

Wearable Computing

Just a few years ago, wearable technology was very much in its infancy. Since then it has developed significantly, and a variety of products are being trialled, including "life-logging cameras", wearable cameras for police officers, and of course, Google Glass. Wearable devices for health monitoring have also been developed.

However, these products have also raised several ITGS social and ethical issues, particularly relating to privacy ( BBC article, NYTimes article) and distraction of its users.
Updated: 2014-10-02

Privacy issues: Lesson activity idea

This short activity works well as a starter task when introducing databases. The lesson can start with a brief discussion of what students think is meant by 'privacy' and in particular 'anonymity', in the context of the ITGS social / ethical issue.

On a small piece of paper, ask students to write down three things about themselves - two which are true and one which is false. They can write the items in any order but must not write their names on the page or share their answers with others.

As a teacher, collect the pieces of paper. Explain to the students that you will read the three 'facts' from one of the sheets and the class must determine who the information relates to, and which fact is the odd one out.

It is often quite surprising how accurately students can guess these things. This can be a good lead into a discussion about whether data really can be anonymous (the pieces of paper the students used were 'anonymous', after all) and the types of data that might be colleted by organisations and businesses.

This activity leads well into exercises 9-14 and 9-15 on page 214 of the textbook (search engine data privacy) and to the articles below about consumer data privacy.
Updated: 2014-10-03
Search engine privacy

Privacy issues: Search engine data

A Face Is Exposed for AOL Searcher No. 4417749 (NYTimes) is an incredibly interesting - and frightening - look at "anonymity". In short, a New York Times journalist is able to track down an interview a woman based solely on her "anonymous" search queries. This article ties in well with exercise 9-14 on page 214 of the textbook.

The data, released by AOL and concerning about 650,000 users, was quickly removed but remains available on several mirror sites - further highlighting the privacy concerns about releasing information on the Internet.
Updated: 2018-06-11
Database privacy issues

Privacy issues: Consumer data

Modern retailers gather and use huge amounts of data about their business and  customers in order to improve their efficiency. The Business and Employment page contains resources detailing how consumer data is collected and used.
Updated: 2014-10-03
Social networks privacy

Privacy issues: Social networks

Like search engines, social networks make a lot of money through targeted advertising - which is only possible by collecting data about their users. Facebook data is greater than the sum of your likes (Forbes) describes how user data is collected and used to infer further information - including a user's gender, race, political affiliation, and sexual orientation.
Updated: 2014-10-03
Database privacy issues

Privacy issues: Data matching

Ordering Pizza in 2015 from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a great video speculating how businesses might use data matching (computer matching) on their customers' library records, credit reports, and even medical records to create a wider picture of their likes and habits.
Updated: 2014-10-03
Targeted advertising

Targeted advertising and consumer data

The collection of customer data and its use for targeted advertising raise a lot of privacy issues. The following news articles give examples of the information companies know about you, and how they acquire it. Data mining also opens the door for less salubrious technologies, such as offering special deals only to certain users (WSJ), and even providing personalised pricing (BBC). How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did (Forbes) is a particularly worrying example of data mining being used to make decisions about a customer.

Other advances - if that is the right word - have enabled companies to match online data with offline activities. Facebook will peer into your grocery bag, for example, explains how supermarket loyalty card data (which is often tied to an email address) can be bought and matched against social network email addresses.

The Wall Street Journal offers these tips to reduce online identity tracking.
Updated: 2014-10-03
RFID in schools

School Administration: Student monitoring with RIFD

'Smart' student badges that use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or similar technologies have been tested in a number of schools. In one of the most famous cases, a student in Texas was suspended for refusing to wear a school issued-RFID tracker. Although she objected on religious rather than privacy grounds, the significant thing about this case is that the suspension was upheld by federal courts, who said the student would need to wear the badge or transfer to another school.

In other cases, such tracking systems removed by schools after complaints from parents, students, and teachers. School uniform manufacturers have even considered embedding tracking devices into uniforms - claiming parents would support such a move.
Updated: 2014-10-03
Student monitoring

School Administration: Student monitoring with biometrics

Biometrics are also increasingly being used in schools. With such systems, pupils can pay for their meals using their fingerprint rather than cash, check out books from the library, and register in class.

However, the use of biometrics - especially with children - raises several ITGS social / ethical issues, including privacy, data security, and consent. The UK Department for Education has some good advice for schools and colleges considering implementing such a system - and it is surprisingly readable. 

ScholarChip and Raptor  are manufacturers of common school surveillance and security technologies, and their web sites are well worth a visit.
Updated: 2014-10-03
Electronic Medical Records

Electronic Medical Records (EMR) & Electronic Health Records (EHR)

Electronic medical records resources:
Updated: 2014-11-07
Online voting

Electronic Voting software and lesson plan

Electronic voting is a controversial topic. This E-Voting lesson plan uses a simple Java application I wrote to simulate the e-voting process. Students get to vote and then are presented with three sets of results - two of which are falsified. This is a useful practise exercise to stimulate discussions about e-voting and the potential problems that may arise.

The New York Times article Voting Test Falls Victim to Hackers and the video Why Internet-Based Voting Is a Bad Idea are also useful for this task, as are the articles below.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Electronic voting

Electronic Voting articles

E-Voting impacts and issues

Report: Voting Machine Errors Highlight Urgent Need for U.S. Database (Wired) describes many, many problems that have occurred with e-voting machines in recent years. Some of them are quite unusual.  E-voting system awards election to wrong candidates in Florida (ComputerWorld) and Voting Out E-Voting Machines (TIME) both detail further problems.

Oscar's E-Voting Problems Worse Than Feared analyses the problems that faced e-voting systems designed to vote for Oscar nominees, while 'Fake votes' cast in France's first digital election (BBC) explores France's June 2013 open primary mayoral election - both articles are a stark reminder of the myriad problems facing such systems.

Finally,  this is a letter to President Obama about e-voting, written by elections officers and computer security experts - and urging him to resist calls for Internet voting. Online voting is impossible to secure examines the various security issues related to online voting, and discusses why voting is much easier to attack than other secure applications such as online banking.


Science Daily's 'Voter-Verifiable' Voting System Ensures Accuracy And Privacy explains how paper-trails are needed on voting machines, while Aussies Do It Right: E-Voting (Wired) discusses another possible solution - open source voting software (this is a good article for students who believe open source software is "less secure".

Updated: 2018-05-21
Offender databases

Police use of IT: Offender databases

Online offenders databases remain a controversial topic, with security, privacy, and integrity being key issues. Nevertheless, many such databases exists, especially in the US: Family Watchdog lists details of sex offenders living in the community (US), while the Michigan Public Sex Offender Registry (PSOR) contains records of sex offenders in the state of Michigan. Florida Department of Corrections Offender Database has online records of prison inmates, released inmates, and fugitives. The Sensible Sentencing Trust is a similar database of offenders in New Zealand - interestingly this is not operated by the government, which could raise further issues related to privacy and integrity.

Mugged by a Mug Shot Online (NY Times) discusses some of the potential long term ramifications of exposing such data.

Updated: 2014-11-07
The Net DVD cover

The Net

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Instant Video

An old film (it features floppy disks!), but a good one for ITGS discussions. Sandra Bullock finds herself "wiped from existence" and given a false criminal record after stumbling into a criminal gang. This is a good film for discussing databases, ITGS issues such as data integrity, privacy, and security, and the increased trust that many in society place in computer systems.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Facebook privacy policy changes

Facebook Data Use Policies

Facebook are once again going to update their data policy, terms, and cookie policy in January 2015. Their Updating Our Terms and Policies page explains the changes that will be made and how users can control the advertisements they see. The main Facebook Data Use Policy page explains in more detail what data is collected by the social network and how it is used.

In the past Facebook has caused storms of online protest regarding its policy changes, including its short-lived real names policy and a huge psychological experiment it conducted on 700,000 users in 2012.

Updated: 2014-12-04

Online Privacy: Regional Differences

With government surveillance and corporate data breaches, online privacy is rarely out of the headlines. This article from the ACM examines different approaches to data privacy protection around the world.

Legislation in the US, Europe, and Japan are explained in detail, making this a great opportunity to study real-life examples and discuss the benefits and disadvantages of different privacy policies and their impact on customers, users, and citizens. It is also a useful tool to highlight the conflicts that occur when users or companies operate in several different countries with different corporate environments and cultures.

Read the article: Online Privacy: Regional Differences

Updated: 2015-02-11
Bicycle rental schemes

Bicycle Rental Schemes

Public bicycle rental schemes - where registered members of the public are free to borrow a series of bikes spread a city or town - are available in a number of cities worldwide. These schemes make good case studies for ITGS because they integrate all three strands of the ITGS triangle, including 2.1 Business and Employment (Transport), 3.1 Hardware, and 3.3 Networks. Registration and payment also raises concerns about 1.2 Security and 1.3 Privacy and Anonymity. An ITGS past paper (May 2009) even featured a question which focused on these schemes. Examples of bike rental schemes for study include:

Bike Sharing Map also has a list of similar schemes all over the world.
Updated: 2016-02-27
Your phone company is watching

Your phone company is watching

Malte Spitz discusses the collection and retention of mobile phone data. The talk links to the databases and the Politics and Government area of the ITGS syllabus and features some great visualisations that show how large amounts of data can be combined to build up patterns about people's lives. Where do people live? Where do they sleep? Are they having an affair? Are they 'likely' to commit a crime? All of these and more can be predicted from captured call data. So many ITGS social and ethical issues are raised.

You can watch the video here.

Updated: 2016-07-07
Data security

Data security and privacy - legal impacts

The Data Protection Act (DPA) proscribes legal penalties for companies who fail to adequately protect personal data on their systems. Equally, it is an offence for users to access data for uses other than the original intended use. It is harder to find examples of these penalties being given, but there are examples:

Updated: 2017-07-04
Why privacy matters

Video: Why privacy matters (Glenn Greenwald)

A great talk by Glenn Greenwald that addresses online privacy, and particularly the common fallacy that 'if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear'. The video is a great introduction to the ITGS privacy theme.

Updated: 2018-01-26