First Privacy@Michigan symposium draws over 200 participants

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  • Sol Bermann, U-M privacy officer and interim CISO (far left), moderates the panel discussion “Privacy in a Connected World: An Oxymoron?” as part of Privacy@Michigan on January 30, 2018.
On January 30, the university held its first Privacy@Michigan symposium. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of International Data Privacy Day, the event featured an interdisciplinary group of U-M faculty and researchers who addressed top privacy-related—and threatening—issues in an era when the very notion has gotten complicated.

The event was sponsored jointly by the U-M School of Information (UMSI), and the Office of Information Assurance (IA) and the Dissonance event series. Chief organizers were Florian Schaub, assistant professor of information at UMSI and in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; and Sol Bermann, university privacy officer and interim U-M chief information security officer, Information Assurance.

They clearly hit a hot topic at the right time. Nearly 100 people attended and another 107 participated via live stream. “We were pleasantly surprised,” says Schaub, whose privacy research has received considerable visibility at U-M and in the media. “We organized the event because we know that privacy comes up in many contexts for many people at U-M and we wanted to bring people together from all over campus who conduct research in this area or are interested in better understanding it.”

Miss the event? Check out our Twitter Moment for highlights.

Topics included Privacy and Social MediaPrivacy and ChildrenPrivacy and Security; Supporting Privacy Decision Making; and a panel discussion on Privacy is Freedom: Censorship, Power Asymmetries & Politics.  Special guest Ann Cavoukian, former privacy commissioner for the Province of Ontario, Canada, and “privacy by design” pioneer, appeared in a video presentation. A poster exhibition followed the panel discussions. (The video recording of the 2018 program is online.)

Bermann explained that “privacy is a challenging subject to tackle because it is so personal and has so many facets. Grounding it in real-life examples and highlighting research at U-M to make it more tangible was part of the plan.” “There is also a lot of privacy research and activities happening across campus, but they’re not necessarily well connected,” Schaub added. “We want to change this.”

Some interesting facts, figures, and remarks from the Michigan Daily article about the event include:

“Privacy is a challenging subject to tackle because it is so personal and has so many facets.”

Sol Bermann

  • Privacy was first defined from a legal perspective in 1890, so it is important to redefine privacy in terms of the 21st century, said John Cheney-Lippold, assistant professor of American Culture for the College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA).
  • For the first time in history, children are growing up with their parents posting information about them on social media or blogs without their permission or consent, said Sarita Yardi Schoenebeck, UMSI assistant professor. Often, this process begins before the children are born.
  • There is a wide divide between children and undergraduates when it comes to strangers tracking personal items via technology devices, according to Susan Gelman, professor of psychology and linguistics in LSA’s Department of Psychology. Children up to about 6-years-old have no problems, or even liked, when strangers could track the items they owned; undergrads largely oppose this tracking.

Schaub and Bermann are already planning Privacy@Michigan 2018. “The responses and feedback have been overwhelmingly positive,” Bermann says. “We had hoped to get people engaged, and for that reason put together a mailing list for further privacy discussions at U-M.”