Schedule for CSC 299:
Social Implications of Computing

Spring 2018

This schedule will evolve over the course of the semester.  Check back frequently! 
NB:  Readings and assignments are listed on the date by which they must be completed, not the date they are assigned.  Unless otherwise noted, assignments are due before the beginning of class on the listed day.

Wed. Jan. 17:  Introduction and Brainstorming of Topics
Mon. Jan. 22:  Changes Brought on by Computing and the Internet
Reading:  Textbook Chapter 1
Assignment Due:  Find an article in the “reputable” media (an outlet that researches its stories, and is quick to acknowledge and correct any factual errors) that appeared in the last month and that addresses social implications of computing.  Write a one-page (~300 word) summary of/reaction to the article, and post to the class discussion board on Blackboard.  Articles already appearing on the articles page don’t count. 

To facilitate browsing by fellow students, please post your essay as in-line text, rather than an attachment. 

Wed. Jan. 24:  Privacy
Reading:  Textbook Sections 2.1–2.2
Mon. Jan. 29: 
Reading:  Textbook Sections 2.3–2.4
Wed. Jan. 31: 
Reading:  Textbook Sections 2.5–2.7
Assignment Due:  Pick one of the following topics and address it in an essay of at least 1000 words.  Try to stake out a position, but be sure to discuss arguments for both sides.  Are there useful non-cyber analogies?  Identify the negative and positive rights involved.  Which side do you think is stronger?  Why? 
  1. [exercise in previous editions of the book] Advocacy groups have sued certain companies because blind people cannot use their websites.  The suits argue that the Americans With Disabilities Act requires that the sites be accessible.  Should a law require all business and government websites to provide full access for disabled people? 

  2. Kim Dotcom was the founder of the now-defunct, alleged by US authorities to have “generated more than $175M in criminal proceeds and caused more than $500M in harm to copyright owners.”  In 2010, Dotcom fled Hong Kong for New Zealand, where he has been fighting attempts to extradite him to the US (he lost the latest round just over a year ago).  In 2013 he launched, which offers what it characterizes as secure, encrypted, anonymous cloud storage.  Is Dotcom a hero or a criminal, or something in-between?  To what extent should governments (in the US or elsewhere) hold people responsible for (merely?) facilitating illegal activity? 

Please generate PDF (not .txt, .doc, .rtf, .dvi, or any other format), and submit your assignment through Blackboard.

Mon. Feb. 5: 
Wed. Feb. 7:  Freedom of Speech
Reading:  Textbook Sections 3.1–3.3
Mon. Feb. 12: 
Reading:  Textbook Sections 3.4–3.7
Assignment Due:  Learn about privacy on Facebook.  Read the privacy policy in its entirety.  If you are a member of Facebook, examine your settings for security, privacy, timeline and tagging, apps, and ads.  Update these settings if they strike you as inappropriate.  Explain the principles you use to decide what should be visible to whom—both by default and for individual posts.  If you are not a member of Facebook, and prefer not to join, describe the settings you would choose if you were a member, or would recommend to a friend.  (You may need to look over a friend’s shoulder to see what the options are.)  Again, explain the principles behind your choice.  Finally, do an Internet search to find information on one or more of the public controversies regarding changes to Facebook’s privacy policy in recent years.  Summarize the controversy, discuss your position on it, and explain how it was resolved. 

The length of this assignment is up to you: take as much space as you need for a clear response.  Please submit your essay, in PDF format, via Blackboard.

Mon. Feb. 14: 
Mon. Feb. 19:  Intellectual Property
Reading:  Textbook Sections 4.1–4.3
Wed. Feb. 21: 
Reading:  Textbook Sections 4.4–4.6
Assignment Due:  “Whistleblowing” has a long tradition prior to the Internet, but modern technology has substantially increased both its feasibility and its potential impact.  Clearly it can be a powerful force for good.  It also has the power for substantial collateral damage. 

As an example of whistleblowing in the digital age, read up on the history of Wikileaks, and the scope of its activities since its founding in 2006.  Drawing examples from this history (but without necessarily passing judgement on any specific case(s)), discuss the underlying ethical issues in an essay of at least 1000 words.  As usual, bolster your arguments with facts from reputable sources, cite those sources appropriately, and turn in PDF.  Questions you may wish to consider include: 
Mon. Feb. 26: 
Guest appearance by Reid Cunningham, Intellectual Property Attorney, UR Ventures
(Prof. Scott out of town)
Wed. Feb. 28:  Biotechnology and AI
Class led by Lisa Jin.  (Prof. Scott out of town)
Mon. Mar. 5:  Crime and Security
Reading:  Textbook Sections 5.1–5.4
Assignment Due:  In December of 2015, the FBI acquired an iPhone 5C that had been used by one of the shooters in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, CA.  Under the All Writs Act of 1789 (yes, 1789), a US magistrate judge ordered Apple to create a new version of iOS and upload it to the phone, allowing the FBI to unlock it by brute force.  Apple refused.  The standoff—but not the underlying legal principle—was resolved when the FBI managed to hack the phone with the help of a third party whose identity has never been officially disclosed. 

Read up on the San Bernardino stand-off, the historical background, the technical issues, and the ongoing controversy over similar unresolved cases.  In an essay of at least 1000 words, discuss what you have learned and address the following question: should the law require companies like Apple to engineer “back doors” into their devices that can be used by law enforcement to circumvent encryption and other privacy controls?  As usual, bolster your arguments with facts from reputable sources, cite those sources appropriately, and turn in PDF through Blackboard.

Wed. Mar. 7: 
Reading:  Textbook Sections 5.5–5.7

(Mar. 12–14:  spring break)

Mon. Mar. 19: Presentation of Project Proposals
Assignment Due:  Choose a topic for your end-of-semester term paper and post a one-to-two paragraph description of it to the discussion group on Blackboard.  A list of possible topics can be found HERE.  Note that you are not limited to topics on this list; anything that addresses the impact on society of computing and the Internet will be acceptable.  (Your completed paper, due at the end of the semester, should be about 4000 words [12–15 pages, depending on formatting]). 
Wed. Mar. 21 
Guest appearance by Jason Fickett, Supervisory Special Agent, FBI Cyber Task Force. 
Mon. Mar. 26:  Guest appearance by Iman Abid, Director, Genesee Valley chapter, New York Civil Liberties Union
Wed. Mar. 28:  Guest appearance by Eric Fredericksen, UR Associate Vice President for Online Learning. 
Mon. Apr. 2: 
Wed. Apr. 4:  Guest appearance by Mary Ann Mavrinac, Neilly Dean of UR Libraries and President of the Association of Research Libraries.
Mon. Apr. 9: 
Wed. Apr. 11: 
Mon. Apr. 16: 
Wed. Apr. 18: 
Mon. Apr. 23: 
Wed. Apr. 25: 
Sun. Apr. 29: 
Assignment Due:  Discuss, in a paper of approximately 4000 words, a topic of your choice related to class material.  Keep in mind that the focus should be on social implications of technology more than on the technology itself.  At the very least, your paper should comprise an insightful overview of the topic; ideally, it should state and defend a position or point of view.  Be sure to cite sources for nonobvious facts, expert opinions, or verbatim material.  (Your bibliographic entries should provide sufficient information, when printed on paper, for a library user to find the original source easily.  Note that Wikipedia and similar sites are not original sources, and that URLs, by themselves, are not acceptable bibliographic entries.)  One last request: to make it easier for me to add annotations, please use a line spacing of at least 1.5. 

Note: Students taking the course for upper-level writing credit will receive their papers back no later than Sunday evening, May 6.  They will have until Sunday evening, May 13, to submit revisions.  That will give me less than 48 hours to submit grades and writing cretification for graduating seniors.  In other words, there is no slack in this schedule, so please don’t ask for an extension unless you’re prepared to argue for an incomplete. 

Mon. Apr. 30:  Last day of class.

Last Change:  13 March 2018 / Michael Scott's email address