Privacy & Data Responsibility

This website is relatively new and some of the articles are not yet posted. Please mind the dust as I transition content and projects over.


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Photo Credit and Caption: Underwater image of fish in Moofushi Kandu, Maldives, by Bruno de Giusti (via Wikimedia Commons)

Cite this page:

Wittmeyer, S. (2020, 13 June). Privacy & Data Responsibility. Retrieved from

Privacy & Data Responsibility was updated June 13th, 2020.

Tech Firms Are Spying on You. In a Pandemic, Governments Say That's OK.

While an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, Joshua Anton created an app to prevent users from drunk dialing, which he called Drunk Mode. He later began harvesting huge amounts of user data from smartphones to resell to advertisers.

Airport Surveillance Is About to Reach a Whole New Level of Ridiculousness

This article is part of Privacy in the Pandemic , a Future Tense series. Flying seems like just about the most dangerous thing you could possibly do right now. You're spending hours confined in a metal tube, with hundreds of strangers from all over the world, without any way of knowing where they've been or whom they've been with.

Norway halts coronavirus app over privacy concerns

The news: Norway is halting its coronavirus contact tracing app, Smittestopp, after criticism from the Norwegian Data Protection Authority, which said that the country's low rate of infections meant that the app's privacy invasions were no longer justified. As a result, the app will cease collecting new data, all data collected so far is being...

Accountability Technologies

A growing part of the public is concerned about cities being designed and governed in a responsible way. In the contemporary information society, however, the democratic obligation of the citizens to inform themselves thoroughly, so that they can participate in public affairs has become impossible to fulfill.

Data Science

A concise introduction to the emerging field of data science, explaining its evolution, relation to machine learning, current uses, data infrastructure issues, and ethical challenges. The goal of data science is to improve decision making through the analysis of data.

AI Ethics

An accessible synthesis of ethical issues raised by artificial intelligence that moves beyond hype and nightmare scenarios to address concrete questions. Artificial intelligence powers Google's search engine, enables Facebook to target advertising, and allows Alexa and Siri to do their jobs. AI is also behind self-driving cars, predictive policing, and autonomous weapons that can kill without human intervention.

The Tool Was Supposed To Predict Crime. Now Los Angeles Police Say They Are Dumping It.

The journalists at BuzzFeed News are proud to bring you trustworthy and relevant reporting about the coronavirus. To help keep this news free, become a member and sign up for our newsletter, Outbreak Today .

Specification gaming: the flip side of AI ingenuity

Specification gaming is a behaviour that satisfies the literal specification of an objective without achieving the intended outcome. We have all had experiences with specification gaming, even if not by this name.

AI researchers propose 'bias bounties' to put ethics principles into practice

Researchers from Google Brain, Intel, OpenAI, and top research labs in the U.S. and Europe joined forces this week to release what the group calls a toolbox for turning AI ethics principles into practice. The kit for organizations creating AI models includes the idea of paying developers for finding bias in AI, akin to the bug bounties offered in security software.

A facial recognition company wants to help with contact tracing. A senator has questions.

Just a few months ago, Clearview AI faced outrage for scraping photos off social media sites like Facebook to create a near-universal facial recognition system that has been embraced by law enforcement agencies.

Common Sense Comes to Computers

One evening last October, the artificial intelligence researcher Gary Marcus was amusing himself on his iPhone by making a state-of-the-art neural network look stupid. Marcus' target, a deep learning network called GPT-2, had recently become famous for its uncanny ability to generate plausible-sounding English prose with just a sentence or two of prompting.

How Facebook's oversight board could rewrite the rules of the entire internet

Facebook's audacious experiment in corporate governance inched closer to reality Wednesday with the announcement of the first 20 members of its oversight board. But while much attention has been paid to how the board stands to rewrite Facebook's own rules, an equally important question is how it stands to rewrite the rules for every other tech platform, too.

Why I’m Joining Facebook’s Oversight Board

Almost exactly a year ago, back in the days when near strangers could strike up random conversations in Italian bars, I found myself learning about a new initiative on which Facebook was embarking — a kind of independent Supreme Court to help the company rule on the deluge of moral, ethical, editorial, and legal challenges it was facing.

These are the people Facebook put in charge of deciding whether to delete controversial posts

Facebook on Wednesday announced the first 20 members of its Oversight Board, an independent body that can overturn the company's own content moderation decisions. The oversight board will govern appeals from Facebook and Instagram users and questions from Facebook itself, although it admitted it will have to pick and choose which content moderation cases to take due to the sheer volume of them.

India's Covid-19 Contact Tracing App Could Leak Patient Locations

As countries around the world rush to build smartphone apps that can help track the spread of Covid-19, privacy advocates have cautioned that those systems could, if implemented badly, result in a dangerous mix of health data and digital surveillance.

India is forcing people to use its covid app, unlike any other democracy

What the app lacks also sets it apart. India has no national data privacy law, and it's not clear who has access to data from the app and in what situations. There are no strong, transparent policy or design limitations on accessing or using the data at this point.

France is using AI to check whether people are wearing masks on public transport

As France makes the wearing of facial masks mandatory on public transport, it's trialling new AI technology to check whether passengers are complying. The software, made by French startup Datakalab, is being trialed first in Paris, and will only generate anonymous statistical data.

The US has no idea how to manage all the testing data it's collecting

In the US, each state decides how it reports findings from covid-19 tests. The result is a chaotic system that's hurting our response to the pandemic. Imagine you're an epidemiologist or public health expert in the US during the current crisis.

The Year the Internet Thought I Was MacKenzie Bezos

Almost a year ago, I wrote a story about MacKenzie Bezos. The novelist had recently divorced Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and announced she planned to give away the majority of her fortune, estimated at the time to be worth more than $36 billion.

Curbing Coronavirus With a Contact-Tracing App? It's Not So Simple.

Contact-tracing apps aim to help health authorities trace paths of coronavirus infection, and in many cases, to notify users that they've been near a person infected by Covid-19. Yet while trying to solve one big problem, they create a lot more small ones.

Feds Warn States That Online Voting Experiments Are 'High-Risk'

The federal government is letting states know it considers online voting to be a "high-risk" way of running elections even if all recommended security protocols are followed. It's the latest development in the debate over Internet voting as a few states have announced they plan to offer it to voters with disabilities this year, while security experts have voiced grave warnings against doing so.

Quarantine Fatigue Is Real

What does harm reduction look like for the coronavirus? First, policy makers and health experts can help the public differentiate between lower-risk and higher-risk activities; these authorities can also offer support for the lower-risk ones when sustained abstinence isn't an option.

Bluetooth may not work well enough to trace coronavirus contacts

The UK's upcoming contact tracing app aimed at limiting the future spread of coronavirus may not be an effective tool for identify whether users have had close contact with someone carrying the virus, and should not seen as a panacea, according to a study of how Bluetooth signals work in real world situations.

Opinion | A Study Said Covid Wasn't That Deadly. The Right Seized It.

How coronavirus research is being weaponized. By Aleszu Bajak and Mr. Bajak and Mr. Howe teach journalism at Northeastern University. Last month, a group of Stanford University researchers released a remarkable study: Covid-19 infections in Santa Clara County, Calif., might well be 85 times higher than official estimates.

Beware of these futuristic background checks

Uncovering and explaining how our digital world is changing - and changing us. Unemployment in May reached its highest levels since the Great Depression, but companies like Postmates and Uber have continued to hire new workers during the pandemic.

This is how the CDC is trying to forecast coronavirus's spread

Every year the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention holds a competition to see who can accurately forecast the flu. Research teams around the country vie with different methods, and the best performers win funding and a partnership with the agency to improve the nation's preparation for the next season.

Your shoe, chewing gum, or ciggies are now your extra password

Computer researchers at Florida International University and Bloomberg have come up with an alternative to crypto baubles like YubiKeys for two-factor authentication. It's not that there's anything wrong with YubiKeys and similar login tokens, apart from the occasional security blunder. But they can be a potential faff for non-savvy netizens.

A New Strain of Ransomware Is Hitting Eastern Europe

Malware called BadRabbit is bouncing between networks in Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and Bulgaria, demanding Bitcoin payment in exchange for decryption of files. Reuters reports that Odessa airport (pictured above) and the metro system in Kiev, both in Ukraine, have been hit by the malware. Russian cybersecurity firm Group-IB says that at least three of the nation's...

Wi-Fi hacking is nothing new

On October 16, a security researcher in Belgium named Mathy Vanhoef published some concerning findings about a vulnerability in Wi-Fi, the near-ubiquitous standard for wireless connection to the internet. The first reaction was alarmist - " The 'Secure' Wi-Fi Standard Has a Huge, Dangerous Flaw," wrote Wired - but the second wave was more measured - " There's a Huge WiFi Security Hole, But Don't Panic," wrote The Daily Beast.

Arm Has a Plan to Secure the Internet of Things

The company that designed the chip in your smartphone hopes an entire industry will adopt its new set of rules to lock down connected devices. When Japanese telecom company SoftBank acquired British chip designer Arm last year for $32 billion, it did so with an eye on more than just phones and tablets.

'I risk death threats to expose scammers'

In the flesh, Wayne May (not his real name) is an affable gentleman in his late 40s, softly spoken with a lilting Welsh accent. When we meet he's casually dressed in jeans and a Batman T-shirt. He works full-time as a carer.

Facebook tells advertisers more scrutiny is coming

Facebook is going to require ads that are targeted to people based on "politics, religion, ethnicity or social issues" to be manually reviewed before they go live, according to an email sent to advertisers and obtained by Axios. That's a higher standard than that required of most Facebook ads, which are bought and uploaded to the site through an automated system.

GCHQ is coming out of the shadows to protect Britain's economy from cyber-criminals

GCHQ's role has always been to collect and use intelligence to disrupt, divert and frustrate our adversaries. We've been doing this since 1919 and we're very good at it. But we cannot afford to stand still.

Parscale: TV news "thought I was a joke"

On 60 Minutes this week, Lesley Stahl interviewed a man few people have heard of-- Brad Parscale. He was an influential player in the Trump campaign, working behind the scenes as a sort of secret weapon, reports Stahl. Parscale was hired to run the digital team but eventually came to oversee advertising, data collection, and much of the campaign's fund-raising.

Is it Weird to Ask Customer Service Reps if They're Robots?

In, say, a customer service chat window, what's the polite way to ask whether I'm talking to a human or a robot? Back in June 2006, before any of us needed to worry about whether we were talking to a robot in our daily interactions, it was up to contemporary artists to make people feel vulnerable and confused.

Why we launched DeepMind Ethics & Society

At DeepMind, we're proud of the role we've played in pushing forward the science of AI, and our track record of exciting breakthroughs and major publications. We believe AI can be of extraordinary benefit to the world, but only if held to the highest ethical standards.

Forget Killer Robots-Bias Is the Real AI Danger

Google's AI chief isn't fretting about super-intelligent killer robots. Instead, John Giannandrea is concerned about the danger that may be lurking inside the machine-learning algorithms used to make millions of decisions every minute. "The real safety question, if you want to call it that, is that if we give these systems biased data, they will...

Ethics of Internet research trigger scrutiny

Have data, will process - Just because data is publicly available online, does it mean researchers should use it? Ethicists are trying to pick through that problem. (Nature) Matt Cardy/Getty British graffiti artist Banksy is renowned for his anonymity. But that status was dented last year when researchers published a paper that cross-referenced the locations of Banksy's street art with public information about people's addresses and likely movements ( M. V. Hauge et al. J. Spatial Sci.