Jessica Staddon discussed one of her most recent projects at NC State, a database for privacy incidents, in a lecture highlighting issues concerning privacy and private data collection on Monday, June 6.

Staddon, an NC State associate professor of computer science and the director of Privacy, spoke about her project during the Laboratory for Analytic Sciences/ College of Humanities and Social Sciences Seminar Series at Hunt Library.

The event, titled “Privacy Incidents, News and News about Incidents,” attracted attendees from governmental, industrial and academic fields.

According to Staddon, there is a pattern in privacy incidents, as they share certain attributes and certain causes. However, without a database with which to refer, people could repeat the same mistakes.

“Now, no one can make statements about what the root causes are, so it’s hard to build better products,” Staddon said. “It’s hard to design better regulation without understanding what hasn’t worked.”

Staddon highlighted how the lack of publicly accessible databases of privacy incidents, such as accidental data collection and cyberbullying, makes analyzing behavioral trends difficult. She gave examples of privacy incidents, presented a new database of privacy incidents that is available to the public and spoke about developing that database. 

One of the incidents currently included in the database is one from a Philadelphia school district that remotely activated cameras on school-issued laptops to locate them when they’re lost or stolen, which raised concerns of privacy. 

She described the database as an ongoing work in progress and welcomes suggestions. For suggestions, questions or comments, students can fill out a form available on the database website. 

As for concerns of misuse of the database, Staddon is afraid that a resource like this might discourage companies from investing in minefields of privacy incidents such as social media. 

“I do worry it could have a stifling effect on innovation, but that’s certainly not our goal,” Staddon said. “Our goal is to encourage innovation, to encourage good privacyware design.”

Staddon worked as a research scientist and manager in Google. She is on the editorial board of the Journal of Computer Security and the advisory board of the Association for Women in Mathematics. 

Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, William Boettcher, a member of the organizing team, said that this series is organized because of the growing interest in the area of privacy and security, especially after the Snowden controversy in 2013. 

“We find that a lot of students, faculty and members of the public don’t really have an understanding of their right to privacy and the extent to which this privacy may be violated by corporate actors or potentially by government actors,” Boettcher said. “We try to bring speakers who talk about different approaches to privacy and ensuring privacy for the population.”

This seminar series is interdisciplinary, focused on analyzing patterns in behavior and their relation to society. As Boettcher pointed out, many students and even parents are interested in this issue and how it affects their lives. 

“I think that this is an important issue [for students] particularly because so much of their lives are spent online and in social media, and they’re giving away a lot of their private information and they may not understand the extent to which they’re giving away,” Boettcher said.

Earlier this year, David A. Hoffman from Intel Corporation spoke about privacy at surveillance agencies as part of this series. More information on the LAS/H&SS Seminar Series and slides from event can be found on https://ncsu-las.org/getting-involved/lashss-seminar-series/.

Staddon’s database can be accessed at research.csc.ncsu.edu/privacyincidents.