COMS BC 3420 Privacy in a Networked World

COMS BC 3420 Privacy in a Networked World

Prof. Rebecca Wright
Barnard College, Columbia University
Spring 2021

Time: Thursdays, 4:10pm - 6:00pm
Modality: Lectures online. In-person participation and meetings are available for students who are able to do so.

Waiting List - last update 1/11/2021

This class has only 24 slots, and has been very popular. This semester, I am handling the waitlist as an instructor-controlled waiting list. Priority will be given to seniors, and half of the seats will be reserved for Barnard students. To be considered for being let into the class, please join the waiting list and fill out the form at, which asks three questions about your interest in the class. Based on the strength of your answers and looking to ensure we have a multidisciplinary perspective in the class, I will make an initial round of enrollments from the waitlist on December 12 after pre-registration ends, considering all responses that have been received by 10am ET on December 12. I will provide updates here from time to time, with the goal of helping students plan.

Update from 12/9/2020: There are 58 students on the waitlist as of 8pm ET on 12/9/2020. It is therefore extremely unlikely that I will admit any sophomores or first-years into the class, and probably at most a small number of juniors.

Update from 12/12/2020: I have made an initial set of assignments into the class. As per the plan mentioned above, priority was given to seniors. From this point forward, students will be considered for adding from the waiting list as other students already enrolled drop the class. Based on prior experience and the current numbers, I think seniors who are still on the waiting list have a decent chance of getting in, but probably not all of them will ultimately get in. It is unlikely, though not impossible, that all of the seniors currently on the waiting list plus a few juniors will be admitted. It is extremely unlikely that any other students will be admitted.

Update from 1/6/2021: Since registration opened up again earlier this week, no students admitted to the class have dropped, and so there has been no waitlist movement. I have found in the past that there were usually changes during the week before classes start as well as once classes start. It is, however, unusual that nobody has dropped the class so far this week, and therefore I'd say it is less likely that seniors still on the waiting list will get in than I had thought earlier, and very unlikely anyone other than seniors will get in.

Update from 1/11/2021: I have e-mailed the Zoom link for Thursday's class to the four students who are the top priority on the waitlist (which is otherwise only available to students in the class) so that they can participate in class during the add/drop period if desired. If you are not one of those students, but you are on the waiting list and submitted an assignment 0 and would still like to participate in this week's class in case you might later get in, please e-mail me. (The class recording will also be available in Courseworks for students who are later admitted, so participating in this week's class is not a requirement in order to later be admitted.)

Office Hours

Prof. Wright's open office hours: typically Tuesdays 3-5pm, but rescheduled many weeks. Complete schedule of office hours and Zoom links. If you are on campus and prefer to meet in person, please e-mail me.

Course Description

The ubiquity of computers and networks in business, government, recreation, and almost all aspects of daily life has led to a proliferation of online sensitive data: data that, if used improperly, can harm the data subjects. As a result, concern about the use, ownership, control, privacy, and accuracy of these data has become a top priority. This seminar course focuses on the technical challenges of handling sensitive data, the privacy implications of various technologies, and the policy and legal issues facing data subjects, data owners, and data users.

Specific topics to be discussed include:

This course is suitable for computer science majors and non-majors, and we take a multidisciplinary approach to privacy. Coding background is not required. Course readings draw on a variety of sources, including both technical materials and the popular press. The course includes a student-chosen privacy-related project. Projects are largely student-directed, and can include activities such as a programming project, a design proposal for a new privacy solution, a survey article describing the state of the art in a particular area, a public policy or legal argument, or an article suitable for the popular press.

We start each class with a discussion of a privacy-related case study. For each, we frame our discussion around a series of specific questions, which you can find in the Courseworks site for the class. Two of your assignments are to present your own case studies. Some student case studies may be used during class as examples.

Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

Additional Course Information

Additional course information, including a detailed syllabus, reading list, and information about grading, can be found for enrolled students via Courseworks.

Copyright © 2020 Rebecca N. Wright