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 4.5 out of 5 by 20.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good content for on line computer user The course covers a wide range of privacy issues. As such it is very useful for people wh are not aware of their exposure to information gathering and use.
Date published: 2020-09-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Poor dvd It was difficult to load this dvd. Had no problem with other DVD’s.
Date published: 2020-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Shocking Admittedly I'm out of the loop but this series is a major eye opener! I will never shop at Target or other large retailers again without thinking how completely creepy their algorithms are. Wow. Yes there are also some positive uses for these algorithms but overall it's invasive and unwanted. Big thanks to this interesting professor. Video is not necessary to understand content.
Date published: 2020-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good theory lecture but given the title of Take Control, weak on practical application. Good presentation. It quickly becomes apparent that the basic problem is political, even before the European GDPR is mentioned. The $5 billion Facebook fine is mentioned, but no evidence that the fine was ever paid, or that the company was not allowed to deduct it as just a cost of doing business. Nor any evidence that the state laws enacted have ever actually been enforced. So no evidence of any actual control. Recommended, there is a great deal of good information in spite of the limitations.
Date published: 2020-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from How did the lecturer know I'd like this? Her information is fascinating but there was one thing that made it difficult to watch,i.e., she frequently isn't looking directly at the camera but rather at something about 15 degrees to her right. Just look at the whites of her eyes. Great info but hard to watch.
Date published: 2020-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect Name The internet is becoming so confusing and invasive that I was becoming very confused as to things that were going on. This package was very informative and complete with teaching how to take charge of our confusing home intrusion that is going on. Thanks to Great Courses
Date published: 2020-05-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Fine Good course for seniors with little knowledge in this area or high school students. Not a lot of depth or breadth to the course.
Date published: 2020-05-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Superficial While there is nothing particularly objectional in the course, I did not really learn much new, and certainly nothing new that I can reasonably apply. I find this odd because I have no been retired from IT for 5 years, and I think that there should have been new issues and best practices.
Date published: 2020-05-02
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