COMS BC 3420 Privacy in a Networked World

COMS BC 3420 Privacy in a Networked World

Prof. Rebecca Wright
Barnard College, Columbia University
Spring 2022

Time: Thursdays, 4:10pm - 6:00pm
Location: Milstein LL016

Waiting List - last update 1/10/2022

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, as well as prioritizing seniority and reserving half of the available slots for Barnard students (assuming sufficient demand), I will make an initial round of enrollments from the waitlist on November 22, considering all responses that have been received by 11:59pm ET on November 21. I will provide updates here from time to time, with the goal of helping students plan.

Update 1/10/2022: I made an initial round of enrollments from the waiting list in November, and there were a couple of students who dropped since then and have been replaced by students from the waitlist. During this week and until the deadline to add classes on January 28, additional assignments will be made as people in the class drop, still considering responses to "assignment 0" (form at Based on past experience, I still expect a fair bit of turnover even though there hasn't been any yet. That said, I think it is extremely unlikely that any sophomores or first-years will be admitted (though anything is possible). If you have been admitted to the class and no longer want to take it, please drop the class as soon as possible to make room for others.

Office Hours

Prof. Wright's open office hours: typically Wednesdays 2-4pm for Spring 2022, but sometimes rescheduled. Complete schedule of office hours.

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, will be available for enrolled students via Courseworks.

Copyright © 2020 Rebecca N. Wright