Speaker Schedule: Spring 2022

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Thursday, January 20, 12:00-1:00 pm CST, via Zoom.
Professor Meg Leta Jones, “The Character of Consent: Cookies Across Legal Cultures”

Access a recording of the webinar here.

Confronting cookies remains one of the most quintessential technological experiences of daily life. Weary internet travelers click through and dodge billions of cookie notifications around the world each day. This phony performance of privacy based on consent has plagued networked computer communications for decades. How is such a phenomenon explained? How did a technology – originally designed to protect privacy and promote additional functionality – become an essential tool for an invasive and clunky internet? Other accounts describe the contemporary click-through-consent arrangement as the product of a system broken by a flood of digital information: the privacy self-management problem that has resulted in the consent crisis. But this talk will be about a project investigating the cookie through a historical lens with origins earlier than the 1990s beyond Silicon Valley and instead starts its story in the mid-1960s on both sides of the Atlantic. The project tells the story of the familiar technology and its political disputes by focusing on who exactly is supposed to be consenting to what and why. The story is told through the narration of three “Computer Characters”: the Data Subject from data protection law, the Anonymous User from communication privacy law, and the Privacy Consumer from consumer protection law. The story of the cookie becomes a tale of domestic technology policy agendas, the evolution of the global computer industry and its professionals, and the messy entanglement of consumer protection, data protection, and privacy law. The weakness of digital consent is not one of volume, but one of technical convergence and legal conflation.

Meg Leta Jones is an Associate Professor in the Communication, Culture & Technology program at Georgetown University where she researches rules and technological change with a focus on privacy, memory, innovation, and automation in digital information and computing technologies. She’s also a core faculty member of the Science, Technology, and International Affairs program in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, a faculty affiliate with the Institute for Technology Law & Policy at Georgetown Law Center, a faculty fellow at the Georgetown Ethics Lab, and visiting faculty at the Brussels Privacy Hub at Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Meg’s research covers comparative information and communication technology law, critical information and data studies, governance of emerging technologies, and the legal history of technology. Ctrl+Z: The Right to be Forgotten, Meg’s first book, is about the social, legal, and technical issues surrounding digital oblivion. Her second book project, The Character of Consent: The History of Cookies and Future of Technology Policy, tells the transatlantic history of digital consent through the lens of the familiar cookie. She is also co-editing a volume called Feminist Cyberlaw that explores how gender, race, sexuality and disability shape cyberspace and the laws that govern it. Meg holds a Ph.D. in Technology, Media & Society from the University of Colorado, Engineering and Applied Science (ATLAS) and a J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law.


RESCHEDULED: Thursday, April 7, 12:00-1:00 pm CST, via Zoom. 
Professor Anita Allen, “Privacy Law and Race Equity”

Access a recording of the webinar here.

In the opening decades of the 21st century popular online platforms rapidly transformed the world. These platforms have come with benefits, but a heavy price to information privacy and data protection. I propose a new framework for describing African American’s multifaceted situation of risk and harm relating to wrongful data collection, use, analysis and sharing online: the Black Opticon. African Americans online face three distinguishable but related categories of vulnerability to bias and discrimination that I dub the “Black Opticon”: discriminatory oversurveillance (panoptic vulnerabilities to, for example AI empowered facial recognition and geolocation technologies); discriminatory exclusion (ban-optic vulnerabilities to, for example, unequal access to goods, services and public accommodations advertised or offered online); and discriminatory predation (con-optic vulnerabilities to, for example, con-jobs, scams and exploitation relating to credit, employment, business and educational opportunities). Escaping the Black Opticon is unlikely without acknowledgement of privacy’s unequal distribution and privacy law’s outmoded and unduly race-neutral façade.  African Americans  could benefit from race-conscious efforts to shape a more equitable digital public sphere through improved laws and legal institutions. This essay critically elaborates the Black Opticon triad and considers whether  the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act (2021), the federal Data Protection Act (2021), and new resources for the Federal Trade Commission proposed in 2021 possibly meet imperatives of a race-conscious African-American Online Equity Agenda, specifically designed to help dismantle the Black Opticon. The 2021 enacted Virginia law and the bill proposing a new federal data protection agency  include civil rights and non-discrimination provisions; and the Federal Trade Commission has an impressive stated commitment to marginalized peoples within the bounds of its authority.   Nonetheless the limited scope and pro-business orientation of the Virginia law, and barriers to follow-through on federal measures, are substantial hurdles in the road to true platform equity.  The path forward requires jumping those hurdles, regulating platforms, and indeed all of the digital economy, in the interests of nondiscrimination, anti-racism and anti-subordination. Toward escaping the Black Opticon’s pernicious gaze, African Americans and their allies will continue the pursuit of viable strategies for justice and equity in the digital economy.

Anita L. Allen is the Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn she is a faculty affiliate of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition, the Warren Center for Network & Data Sciences and a Senior Fellow of the Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics.  A graduate of Harvard Law School with a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Michigan, Allen is an expert on privacy and data protection law, bioethics and public philosophy. She holds an honorary doctorate from Tilburg  University.  In 2019 Allen was President of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association.  In 2021 she was awarded the Quinn Prize for service to philosophy and philosophers. She is an elected  member of the American Law Institute, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Allen served under President Obama as a member of the National Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. Allen currently serves on the boards of the National Constitution Center, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Future of Privacy Forum. Allen has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from EPIC and will receive the 2022 Privacy Award from the Berkeley Law and Technology Center on February 24.  Allen has lectured on privacy in Europe, Japan, Taiwan, and Israel; published five books and over 120 scholarly articles; contributed to and been featured in popular newspapers, magazines, podcasts and blogs; and  appeared on numerous television and radio programs. In 2024 Allen will give the H.L. A. Hart Memorial Lecture at the University of Oxford.


Tuesday, March 22, 12:00-1:00 pm CST, via Zoom.
Professor Helen Nissenbaum, “Defining and Applying Privacy as Contextual Integrity”

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ABSTRACT: The theory of contextual integrity (CI) defines privacy as appropriate flow of personal information answering a societal need for a concept of privacy that, simultaneously, is meaningful, explains why privacy is worth caring about, and underscores why we must protect it. I argue that contextual integrity meets all three of these benchmarks. CI requires that we bend away from one-dimensional ideas, which for decades have gripped the privacy domain, namely, control over information about ourselves, stoppage of flow, or the fetishization of specific, “sensitive” attributes (e.g. identity, health.) My talk will review key ideas behind CI, contrast it with alternative accounts, and present a few applications.

Helen Nissenbaum is a Professor at Cornell Tech and in the Information Science Department at Cornell University. She is also Director of the Digital Life Initiative, which was launched in 2017 at Cornell Tech to explore societal perspectives surrounding the development and application of digital technology, focusing on ethics, policy, politics, and quality of life. Her own research takes an ethical perspective on policy, law, science, and engineering relating to information technology, computing, digital media and data science. Topics have included privacy, trust, accountability, security, and values in technology design. Her books include Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, with Finn Brunton (MIT Press, 2015) and Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life (Stanford, 2010).Grants from the NSF, AFOSR, and the U.S. DHHS-ONC have supported her work. Recipient of the 2014 Barwise Prize of the American Philosophical Association, Nissenbaum has contributed to privacy-enhancing software, including TrackMeNot and AdNauseam. Nissenbaum holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford University and a B.A. (Hons) in philosophy and mathematics from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.


Wednesday, April 20, 12:00-1:00 pm CST, via Zoom.
Michele Gilman, “Data-Centric Technologies and the Construction of Class”

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This talk explores the ways in which data-centric technologies are producing and perpetuating class divisions within the United States. While the existing literature grapples with the social justice implications of the datafied society, it does not focus on the causal mechanisms by which data-centric technologies maintain class divisions within the United States. We have focused far more on who is being harmed by technology, rather than who is benefitting. This class blindness can be harmful. Not only does it risk pathologizing the poor by linking their economic state to personal failings, but it also screens powerful actors and entities from scrutiny, thereby permitting economic inequality to flourish as a seemingly natural outgrowth of the market. By contrast, a critical class perspective can unmask how technology, power and law operate in tandem to perpetuate disadvantage.

Michele Gilman is the Venable Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development at the University of Baltimore School of Law. She directs the Civil Advocacy Clinic, where she supervises students representing low-income individuals and community groups in a wide range of litigation, legislation, and law reform matters. Professor Gilman writes extensively about data privacy and social welfare issues, and her articles have appeared in journals including the California Law Review, the Vanderbilt Law Review, and the Washington University Law Review, as well as in the popular media. She was a faculty fellow at Data & Society in 2019-2020. She received her B.A.from Duke University, and her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.


Wednesday, May 4, 12:00-1:00 pm CST, via Zoom.
danah boyd, “The Politics of Privacy and the 2020 U.S. Census”

Access a recording of the webinar here.

When the U.S. Census Bureau announced its intention to modernize its disclosure avoidance procedures for the 2020 Census, it sparked a controversy that is still underway. The move to differential privacy introduced technical and procedural uncertainties, leaving stakeholders unable to evaluate the quality of the data. More importantly, this transformation exposed the statistical illusions that have surrounded census data for decades. Efforts to leverage technically oriented privacy-enhancing tools have triggered a battle over uncertainty, trust, and legitimacy of the Census.

For most people, privacy is a value, rooted in the ability to control a social situation. Yet, within legal and technical contexts, it’s also a framework for determining the flow of information. This talk will grapple with the politics and fractures of privacy in the context of the U.S. census, highlighting how privacy has shapeshifted since the country’s first count and reflecting on what has become of privacy in our data-rich present. This talk will mix history, STS theory, and technical concerns, all presented in a way that is designed to be broadly accessible.

danah boyd is a Partner Researcher at Microsoft Research, the founder and president of Data & Society, a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Georgetown University, and a Visiting Professor at New York University. Her research focuses on the intersection of technology and society, with an eye to how structural inequities shape and are shaped by technologies. She is currently conducting a multi-year ethnographic study of the US census to understand how data are made legitimate. Her previous studies have focused on media manipulation, algorithmic bias, privacy practices, social media, and teen culture. Her monograph “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens” has received widespread praise. She is a Director of both Crisis Text Line and Social Science Research Council, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and on the advisory board of Electronic Privacy Information Center. She received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Brown University, a master’s degree from the MIT Media Lab, and a Ph.D in Information from the University of California, Berkeley.