Taking Control of Your Personal Data

Course No. 1138
Professor Jennifer Golbeck, PhD
University of Maryland, College Park
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Course No. 1138
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Discover how your personal data is used without your knowledge.
  • numbers Uncover the backstories of America's most scandalous data breaches.
  • numbers Learn what you can do to protect your data privacy.

Course Overview

You hear the stories every day: Your household devices are spying on you. Your private social media data has been leaked to the world. Another big online company has had a data breach and your personal information has been exposed. An algorithm has decided what product you should buy. Every day, it seems your control slips away.

We have never before in human history been able to share so much about ourselves so quickly. Neither have we ever been so exposed to forces that want to take advantage of that capability. The 12 revealing lectures of Taking Control of Your Personal Data will open your eyes to the surprising extent of that exposure and will discuss your options for keeping your personal data as safe as possible. Your instructor, Professor Jennifer Golbeck of the College of Information Studies at University of Maryland, College Park, will show you what really goes on behind the scenes with the data you knowingly and unknowingly share all day long.

Can They Really Do That?

As Dr. Golbeck explains in intriguing detail, Europeans are protected by some of the most restrictive privacy laws in the world. In China, at the other extreme, personal data is regularly exploited on many levels. Right now, the United States finds itself somewhere in the middle.

While your private communication is protected, the Supreme Court has ruled that you give up that right to privacy when you involve a third party. For example, if you discuss the price of a home with your realtor by phone, that information is private. But if you message that same information to the same person via social media, all bets are off. No matter what your privacy settings are, once you’ve used the platform for that conversation, the company that runs that particular forum owns that information to analyze and use as it sees fit.

Some uses of your data constitute a crime, of course—scams, extortion, fraud, data theft—and the FBI receives more than 900 cybercrime reports each day. But you’ll be surprised to find out how much of your personal data is being manipulated in ways that are perfectly legal—data you never intended for another person to see, even data you didn’t even know was out there. Consider:

  • Manipulation of your Facebook world. Facebook wants you to have as many friends as possible, so it analyzes data you didn’t know existed to determine which “non-friends” might have attended the same event. Suddenly, you have a new friend suggestion!
  • Targeted television commercials. If you use the same provider for both internet and television services, your browser history is used to determine not only online ad placement, but also which TV commercials you see.
  • Broadcasts from your phone. If you have a smart phone, it’s busy collecting vast amounts of data about you and broadcasting it to a variety of receivers. In one experiment, a newspaper columnist working with a technology company discovered that over the course of just one week, 5,400 hidden apps and trackers received personal data from his phone.

Companies strive to keep your data private when market forces demand it, but, generally, the law does not require it. And even if you do read and sign every privacy policy that comes across your desk or apps, hackers are working hard to stay one step ahead. So, whether legally or illegally, your most private data is likely to be used by unexpected parties, in unexpected ways, at some point in time.

It’s Scandalous

In this course, you’ll go behind the scenes to understand exactly what went wrong in some well-known cases of data misuse to learn how you can better protect your own data. You will take a closer look at cases like:

  • Cambridge Analytica asked Facebook users to install an app for academic research. The app took all the individual’s data and all friends’ data, stored it, and then handed it over to political strategists who analyzed it to develop profiles for political messaging on Facebook and other platforms.
  • Google Buzz was intended to be a Facebook competitor. Wanting to populate its network as quickly as possible, the service automatically gave each user friends—based on how often the two individuals had previously emailed each other. The results were devastating for those who would never have granted social media access to these “friends,” e.g., ex-spouses, therapy clients, lawyers, and others.
  • Ashley Madison was, and is, a dating website for adulterers. Among its many ethical problems was the fact that when customers paid to have their data deleted, the company never removed it. When the site was hacked in 2015, all user data was downloaded to the dark web. What was never meant to be public was suddenly accessible to anyone—with dire consequences.

But an even more significant concern than the data itself is how many companies rely on the manipulation of that data to make decisions that affect people’s lives. Software formulas called algorithms are developed to analyze vast amounts of data and to learn from that data using artificial intelligence. Algorithms are capable of making great generalizations and conclusions based on those enormous datasets. But when decision makers use those conclusions to judge one individual, the results can be disastrous. Suppose the data is inherently biased because the data from one whole group of people wasn’t considered. Or maybe the individuals who wrote the algorithms simply made a mistake, and the algorithm could never learn the true relationships between various pieces of data.

Consider the case of one superb teacher who was told she would be fired after years of dedication, high scores, and stellar reviews. “Why?” she asked incredulously. “Because the algorithm says so.” The algorithm had ranked her in the bottom five percent of teachers—all of whom would be fired. This school fired one of its top teachers based on data it could neither understand nor defend. Many decisions concerning employment, mortgage lending, and more are now made that same way.

How to Protect Yourself

This course doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all solution because no such solution exists. But this course will help you:

  • Determine your personal privacy profile. Where do you fit in the spectrum of valuing your privacy vs. convenience? How do facial recognition software and genetic profiling affect your privacy decisions?
  • Decide whether or not to try the dark web and its Tor browser. How important are speed and accessibility to you?
  • Understand the current U.S. laws and proposed state laws regarding privacy. Are you willing to look into privacy advocacy groups?

Privacy issues are not going away; the technology that collects, analyzes, and derives insights from our data continues to grow at break-neck speed. Not all results are nefarious, of course. Fields as diverse as medicine, policing, and astronomy have benefited from the development of deep data and its algorithms.

As a society, we have not yet figured out how to apply appropriate ethics, values, and protections in parts of this domain. As individuals, we need exactly the type of information and direction provided by Taking Control of Your Personal Data.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 26 minutes each
  • 1
    How Your Data Tells Secrets
    You probably know that anything you post on the internet is fair game; it can be used by advertisers, political parties, and others to target you with messages. Learn what else they use—from scratches on your camera lens in your pictures to a “like” from a friend-of-a-friend—to learn about you in unexpected detail and to predict your future behavior with surprising accuracy. x
  • 2
    The Mechanics of Data Harvesting
    No matter how careful you are about your online presence, information can be uncovered about you from data you didn't even know was being collected. One Washington Post reporter discovered that within one week, 5,400 hidden apps and trackers had received data from his phone! Learn some steps you can take to limit access to your personal information. x
  • 3
    Privacy Preferences: It's All about You
    How much do you care about your privacy? How concerned are you that specific individuals or groups could access your data? Examine why you must honestly identify your privacy profile before determining how to protect your online presence. Then, you can explore the privacy options that best meet your needs, knowing that it's always a tradeoff between privacy and convenience. x
  • 4
    The Upside of Personal Data Use
    We tend to be comfortable with the internet “knowing” about us when we understand how it acquired our data and how it’s being used. While ads geared to our purchase history might be annoying, we don’t find them nefarious. But you’ll be shocked to learn just how valuable those “recommender” algorithms are to the companies that own them. x
  • 5
    Online Tracking: Yes, You're Being Followed
    You don’t have to post information about yourself on a social media site to leave a trail of personal information; you’re unwittingly doing that every single time you visit a website—any website. Your IP address, cookies, browser fingerprinting, and more, create and track an electronic trail of your activities. Explore how you can block these trackers and hide your web activity to protect your privacy. x
  • 6
    Nowhere to Hide? Privacy under Surveillance
    When you accepted that car-tracking device from your auto insurance company, you chose to exchange some privacy for potential discounts. But you’ll be surprised to learn about the many other choices you make that you did not know could invade privacy—from using a medical device in your own bedroom to visiting the directory kiosk in a shopping mall, and much more. x
  • 7
    Consent: The Heart of Privacy Control
    When was the last time you thoroughly read and understood the privacy policies of your social media platforms? If you’re like most people, the answer is “never.” But how can you control your personal information if you don’t understand what you’re consenting to? Explore the myriad ways in which a lack of transparency has created societal harm in the past—and potential solutions. x
  • 8
    Data Scandals and the Lessons They Teach
    The website has assured you that your data is secure, so what can go wrong? Learn what the Cambridge Analytica, Google Buzz, and Ashley Madison scandals, among others, have taught us about data security. These debacles resulted in more than just personal inconvenience. Although we can never know the full extent of their effects, we do know lives were at stake. x
  • 9
    The Dark Web: Where Privacy Rules
    Is there any way to keep your comings and goings on the internet completely private? The answer might be the ominous-sounding dark web—not accessible from regular web browsers and not indexed by search engines. Explore the dark web and its Tor browser. Learn exactly how they protect your privacy and why you might, or might not, want to go that route. x
  • 10
    Algorithmic Bias: When AI Gets It Wrong
    Algorithms are built to learn from the vast amount of data collected about us for a variety of purposes, including significant decisions addressing employment, mortgage lending, and more. Discover how both the data and the algorithms can include accidental bias. Learn how this bias can impact people's lives, and what steps can be taken to address the issue. x
  • 11
    Privacy on the Global Stage
    Europeans legally own all data about themselves, and companies must comply with their wishes. In the United States, two-party communications are protected, but third-party communications (e.g., on Facebook) are not. In China, with an intrusive government, citizens have no expectations of privacy. Explore how these different privacy paradigms affect daily life—from bank loans to dating. x
  • 12
    Navigating the Future of Personal Data
    Examine the case of DNA and the fascinating effects of its changing access, use, and expected privacy—from interesting personal information to help in crime fighting to discrimination. With technology changing so quickly, can any real privacy assurances ever be made? Explore the California Consumer Privacy Act and the ways in which that law could affect all of us, in any U.S. state. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Ability to download 12 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • Printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • Printed course guidebook
  • Supplementary Materials
  • Resources
  • Lecture Guides

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Your professor

Jennifer Golbeck

About Your Professor

Jennifer Golbeck, PhD
University of Maryland, College Park
Jennifer Golbeck is a Professor in the College of Information Studies and Director of the Social Intelligence Lab at the University of Maryland, College Park. She received an AB in Economics and an SB and SM in Computer Science at the University of Chicago, as well as a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Maryland, College Park. Professor Golbeck began studying social media from the moment it emerged on the web,...
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Taking Control of Your Personal Data is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 21.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good coverage of this topic The professor is obviously very knowledgeable and presents the material in an organized and easy to understand format. As a retired programmer, some of these concepts are new to me and am thankful to get this material and be brought up-to-date. Hope to complete the course shortly but am impressed so far.
Date published: 2020-04-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from COMPETENT BUT BIASED I was looking forward to a short course about practical steps to secure digital privacy. In reviewing this I found there were very few illustrations and graphics. In the Great Courses new format the entire lecture consisted of upper torso shots, sometimes focusing into extreme closeups of the face. In this case Ms. Golbeck was wearing a magenta dress in front of a cyan background, an unpleasant, eye-straining experience. I also noticed that she spoke of "hate speech," which has become the all-purpose catch-all justifying censorship and surveillance by the world's favorite search engine, for example. I was quite surprised that she spoke approvingly of the past administration in 2010 introducing an internet privacy program, and right after that said the current administration did the opposite, broke down the safeguards. Nowhere was there any mention of the abuses of digital privacy by the NSA, CIA, FBI, State Dept. of the previous administration. Was this an oversight? I don't believe so.
Date published: 2020-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The wild west of data privacy I have heard Professor Rozenzweig’s wonderful course the surveillance state several years ago. That course dealt with a similar topic but was focused on governmental surveillance. I wrote in my review of that course that it would be interesting to hear a course that focuses more on the use that commercial companies make with our private data. This is exactly what this course is about. I guess everyone today has a strong sense that their private data is not well protected but understanding how this data is harvested and sold by often unscrupulous businesses was shocking - in some famous cases involving illegal behavior. The ramifications of insurance companies and employers getting access to private information struck me as particularly worrisome. Even more shocking was the almost total lack of protection offered by the law. As the professor explains - we are living in the age of Wild West of privacy law, and in the USA much more so than in Europe. It seems to me that forming such laws is precisely the goal of having an active legislating body. In fact, she explains that one of the first laws passed under the Trump presidency was to allow the internet providers to collect surfing history for targeted advertising. Professor Golbeck did a great job in providing a good overview of the many aspects we should be worried about with regards to data privacy, and what actions we can take to mitigate our exposure. In many cases, as she explains, limiting our exposure may entail using less convenient methods of communication, less user-friendly browsers etc., but at least one understands the options and can make a conscious decision. She also admits that in some aspects, the exposure is really hard to control and we are left at the mercy of the big data companies. This has been a short and fascinating (shocking) peek into this topic.
Date published: 2020-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Taking Control... The information in the course is, in a word, outstanding! It is a given that anyone that can get their hands on your information is going to use it; however, I had no idea we can take several simple steps to protect ourselves. Coming from the software world myself, I wouldn't dream of using people's information, rather I would try to protect it.
Date published: 2020-02-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best ever Even though I was an IT professional, I learned a lot. The material was also presented in a way that a novice could understand. As a result of watching the course, I have become more careful in how I share my data. I appreciated that a plain background was used, not one of the irritating glitzy sets that TGC has been using.
Date published: 2020-02-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good Start In Understanding This Topic It covered a broad variety of information on the topic but not too deeply. As such, it is a good baseline that helps to prepare for more comprehensive look at individual elements. The course could use more graphical content and more hard data.
Date published: 2020-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative I'll watch it again - well presented- highly recommended
Date published: 2020-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The course holds my attention Thank you for having a speaker not constantly walking around and switching camera shots time after time. Also, no distracting background. The material is very timely.
Date published: 2020-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Timely and Informative! This is a timely, informative, and eye-opening "crash" course into the ways our private and public personal data is used and abused and how we can protect our privacy and avoid misuse. Prof. Golbeck obviously has deep knowledge of her subject and has chosen her topics wisely. She has a pleasant, conversational speaking style that makes the course material easy to understand and absorb. Her guidebook is particularly useful, as it contains access information for resources that she recommends in her lectures. I watched the video version of the course but the graphics add little and the audio would be entirely satisfactory. I would note that Prof. Golbeck does not hide her opinions. She clearly prefers strong European-style privacy restrictions and is distrustful of government actors and large technology companies like Google and (particularly) Facebook. All in all, an excellent and worthwhile course. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2020-02-06
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