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

Homework 3 - due January 29, 2004

Reading assignment: Garfinkel 8; Agre and Rotenberg 5; Smith 1993; Culnan; Gellman; Moores

1. Pick a particular industry or type of web site and examine the privacy policies for at least three different companies from that industry. Write up a summary of each policy, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses and how it relates to the fair information practice principles. Write an analysis in which you compare and contrast the policies and note any industry-specific factors that might be influencing these policies. Please include the URL for each policy.

2. In Jeff Smith's 1993 paper, he outlines some potential approaches to improving company privacy policies and practices including market pressure, laws, threat of consumer backlash or new legislation, a federal data protection board, and industry initiatives. With the exception of a federal data protection board, all of these have been tried to varying extents in the US over the past decade. For each of the four approaches that have been tried provide a) a short summary of Smith's assessment of how successful it would be and b) an example or two of how it has been tried in the US, c) your assessment of how successful it proved to be in practice.

3. Many people don't like having their personal information sold for marketing purposes. Some suggest that there should be new laws banning the sale of personal information for marketing unless an individual has granted their consent. Others suggest that individuals should be compensated when their information is sold. Which of these approaches (or another approach) would you advocate pursuing. Provide a rationale for your choice.

4. Review the web sites of several privacy-related advocacy groups (see, for example, the list of URLs in Chapter 2 of the Cranor book). What are the major issues that they are working on right now? In Chapter 5 of the Agre book, Davies describes the recent history of privacy activism through 1996. Based on your survey of web sites, do you think the state of privacy activism has changed since 1996? If so, in what ways has it changed?