15-508 / 17-801 / 19-608 / 95-818: Privacy Policy, Law, and Technology

Semester Project

All students in this course will be required to complete a project that they work on throughout the semester. This is intended to be an individual project; however, groups of students may choose complementary projects that they work on together (with the instructor's approval).


September 2 - Project assignment discussed in class
September 14 - Project brainstorming due (2 points)
September 23 - One-paragraph project description due (3 points)
October 5 - Project proposal due (15 points)
November 2 - Intermediate deliverable due (5 points)
November 18 - Draft paper due (5 points)
December 7 - Final paper due (60 points)
December 3, 7, 9, ? - Project presentations in class and at poster session (10 points)

The various project assignments due before the final paper are designed to make sure you are making progress on your project throughout the semester and to give you opportunities to get feedback on your work along the way. Only the project proposal, final paper, and presentation will be graded for content. The other project assignments will be graded for completeness. For example, you will receive full credit for your draft paper if it has all the expected components and it appears that you put some effort into your draft, even if the content is poor. However, if your draft is missing an essential component (for example, a bibliography), you will not receive full credit. You will also lose points for submitting project components late. All project-related assignments will be graded within one week if they are submitted on time. You will receive feedback on the quality of the content even when you are not graded on quality. Feel free to submit these assignments early.


Project Brainstorming

You should brainstorm about possible topics for your project. This may include completely original ideas as well as variations on the suggested topics that have been provided. Turn in at least two possible topics that you are considering. Especially if you are considering an idea that is not on the suggested topics list, this is a good way to get early feedback on whether you are on the right track.

One-paragraph Project Description

Turn in a one-paragraph description of the project you intend to complete.

Project Proposal

The project proposal should include:

You might think of the project proposal as being similar to a grant proposal (without the need to fill out government forms or prepare a budget request). In the process of preparing this proposal you should conduct a literature review so that you can cite the relevant related work in your proposal.

Most of your grade will be based on your literature review, background, and motivation. Writing quality (grammar, spelling, clarity, etc.) will be taken into account in your grade as well. Besides being a graded assignment, the project proposal serves as a way for you to organize your thoughts about how to proceed with your semester project and to communicate them to your instructor. You will receive feedback on your proposal that may result in some changes to your project plans.

Intermediate Deliverable

An intermediate deliverable is a component of your project that you will turn in by November 2 to demonstrate that you are making progress on your project and to get feedback before the project is completed. For example, if you are conducting a survey, your intermediate deliverable might be your survey form; if your paper will be advocating a particular policy position, your intermediate deliverable might be a description of the position you will be advocating and an outline of the arguments you plan to make; if you will be developing software, the intermediate deliverable might be a demo of a prototype and/or mockups of screen designs. You will receive feedback on your intermediate deliverable which should be valuable as you finish your project.

Draft Paper

Your draft paper should be a complete or nearly complete version of your final project report.

Final Paper

Your project report should document the work you have done on your project. It should include an updated version of the literature review, background, and motivation from your project proposal. If your project primarily involved writing a paper, then your project report may be the only artifact you submit. On the other hand, if you developed software or created something as part of this project, you should submit whatever you created in addition to the report. In the latter case, the report should document what you did and may include information about obstacles you encountered, testing and evaluation, design rationale, etc., as appropriate. Please consult with the instructor about what should be included in your report if you have any doubts. You will be graded both on your results as well as the accompanying explanation in your report.

Graduate students are expected to write up their report in a format suitable as a conference paper submission.

Because of all the opportunities you have to get feedback on your project during the semester, the final paper and presentation will be graded with fairly high standards. What I will be looking for depends a lot on the particular project you choose. Here are some things I will be looking for in most papers.

Project Presentation and Poster

You should prepare an 8-10 minute presentation and a poster that provide an overview of your project report. Presentations will be scheduled during the last week of class and during the final exam week. A poster session (open to the public) will be scheduled around the same time. Following your class presentation your instructor and classmates will have an opportunity to ask you questions about your project. You will be graded on the organization and clarity of your presentation, your effective use of visual aids, your oral presentation skills, and your responses to questions. It is recommended that you do a practice run of your presentation for your friends. More details about the poster session will be provided in class.

Project ideas

The following are a list of suggested projects. Students may select one of these projects or develop their own project idea in consultation with the instructor.

Short privacy notices

Research the efforts underway to develop standard format, short privacy notices as well as the processes that lead to the development of other types of consumer notices such as nutrition labels and various safety warnings. Critique the designs for a short privacy notice that have been proposed and offer your own proposal for a notice design. Identify specific areas where further research or consumer testing is needed to further refine the design and carry out a small consumer test to gain additional insights into at least one of these areas. Relevant URLs to get you started: http://www.privacyconference2003.org/resolution.asp, http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2003/12/privnoticesjoint.htm, http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/ftc-noticeANPR.htm, http://www.hunton.com/info_policy/short-notices.htm

Privacy software development

Design and implement a privacy-related software tool that offers functionality or features that are different from the other tools currently available. You might develop a stand-alone tool or develop a module for another piece of software, for example Mozilla. Depending on the scope of what you have in mind, it may not be feasible to implement your entire design during this semester, in which case you should implement one component of the design and document the rest of the design, perhaps also implementing a mocked up user interface. Your report should explain the rationale behind your design, the types of privacy protections this software offers, who would be interested in using it, and how it differs from other software currently available.

Privacy software review

Conduct a "Consumer Reports" style review of consumer privacy software products and services. You should identify a type of product or service to investigate and develop a set of criteria for evaluating and comparing these products. Then you should carry out tests on a set of these products. Your review should include background information on these products and advice for consumers as well as the results of your evaluations. Unlike the real "Consumer Reports" your report is not limited to a few magazine pages, so you can (and should) go into a bit more detail than you will usually find in a magazine review.

Computer professionals and privacy

Research the history of computer professionals' involvement in privacy issues. As new computing technologies have raised new privacy concerns, what role have computer scientists played in bringing these concerns to light, developing designs that minimize privacy risks, and advocating public policies that help mitigate privacy concerns?

Privacy risks from wireless technologies

Wireless devices that use RFID, Bluetooth, 802.11, GPS, etc. are becoming increasingly prevalent and raising privacy concerns. However, there is a lot of misinformation and confusion about the privacy issues associated with these devices. The goal of this project is to sort out the fact from the fiction and provide a balanced assessment of the risks and benefits of these technologies. What uses of these technologies pose few if any privacy risks? What are the biggest privacy risks associated with these technologies? What should consumers be most concerned about? What steps can consumers take to protect themselves? Are any new regulations needed to address privacy issues associated with these technologies? What guidelines should technology designers and service providers follow to mitigate privacy risks?

Cost of privacy

Some companies are investing a lot of money in proactive privacy-related efforts, while others are addressing privacy issues only when a problem occurs. Industry analysts and consumer activists tend to differ in their assessments of the cost of privacy. How much do corporate privacy programs cost? What sort of payoffs can companies expect from them? What kinds of industries are developing around corporate privacy-related services? What kinds of companies seem to benefit most from proactive privacy efforts? Resources to get you started: The cost of privacy safeguards, Privacy, Consumers, and Costs, The Economics of Privacy, The Privacy Payoff.

Technology assessment of anonymous payment systems

Survey the various proposals for anonymous payment systems in the literature, as well as actual anonymous payment systems that have been deployed (e-cash systems, anonymous credit cards, stored value cards, etc.). To what extent are anonymous payment systems readily available for people to use today? What kind of anonymity do they provide and what are their capabilities and limitations? What factors have prevented them from becoming more widely deployed? What issues would need to be overcome before they would be likely to become more widely deployed. Develop a number of possible scenarios that lead to differing levels of adoption in the future.