Course Details

Course Number: 94-806

Privacy in the Digital Age

Units: 6

Privacy is a complex and multi-faceted concept. This course combines technical, economic, legal,and policy perspectives to present a holistic view of its role and value in the digital age.

The reduction of the cost of storing and manipulating information has led organizations to capture increasing amounts of information about individual behavior. New trade-offs have emerged for parties involved with privacy-enhancing or intrusive technologies: individuals want to avoid the misuse of the information they pass along to others, but they also want to share enough information to achieve satisfactory interactions; organizations want to know more about the parties with whom they interact, but they do not want to alienate them with policies deemed as intrusive. Is there a “sweet” spot that satisfies the interests of all parties? Is there a combination of technological solutions, economic incentives, and legal safeguards that is acceptable for the individual and beneficial to society?

This course tries to address the above questions. In particular, the course begins by comparing early definitions of privacy to the current information-focused debate. It then focuses on:

- technological aspects of privacy (privacy concerns raised by new IT such as the Internet,
wireless communications, and computer matching; tracking techniques and data mining;
privacy enhancing technologies and anonymous protocols, …),
- economic aspects (economic models of the market for privacy, financial risks caused by
privacy violations, the value of customer information, …),
- legal aspects (laissez-faire versus regulated approaches, US versus EU legal safeguards, …)
- managerial implications (the emerging role of Chief Privacy Officers, compulsory directives
and self-regulative efforts, …), and
- policy aspects (trade-offs between individual privacy rights and societal needs, …)

Let me repeat a key word from the above description: “holistic.” This term refers to the fact that we will try to cover different angles of the privacy debate, and we will try to connect and contrast each angle to the others. The approach of this class therefore somewhat privileges breadth over depth (while offering tools and directions for more focused analysis), in order to give you a broad and varied understanding of privacy problems in a networked digital society. (For this reason, this class also provides some preparation and introduction for/to other courses you may take at the Heinz College.)

Finally, the intention of the class is not to scare you into believing that every instance of

information disclosure is a privacy invasion. Instead, the goal is to educate you about the kinds of information that may be gathered about individuals, and to help you determine the individual and societal trade-offs associated with accepting or avoiding its collection and/or use. Since privacy is a very subjective and contextual feeling, what may be a privacy invasion for you in one setting may not be in another. The challenge we present to you in this course is to understand the difference.

Learning Objectives:

The main objective of this course is to provide an informed and critical view of the role and
value of privacy in the digital age. Because privacy is a complex and multi-faceted concept, the course aims to present and combine technical, economic, legal, and policy perspectives.


Sonam Samat
Veronica Marotta