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Berkeley Forum, expert panelists discuss data privacy concerns

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The Berkeley Forum’s first panel of the semester discussed the current state of privacy and the need for the regulation of information in an unprecedented age of data collection and connectivity.


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SEPTEMBER 26, 2022

Live locations, browsing histories and contact information — with an increasing amount of personal lives being shared online, data privacy concerns are among some of the top issues of the modern generation.

The Berkeley Forum’s panel on Data Privacy and Ownership explored data privacy concerns Thursday as its first panel event of the semester. The event included panelists Debbie Reynolds, founder of Debbie Reynolds Consulting LLC; Cameron Kerry, former general counsel and secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce in the Obama Administration; and Jennifer King, a privacy and data policy fellow at Stanford University Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence.

“We’re at a very unique time in the world,” Reynolds said. “We have all these regulations that are coming in place around the world trying to protect the rights of individuals; we have unprecedented technology … collecting data in ways that were never collected before.”

The panel kicked off with a discussion on the privacy paradox, which is based on the premise that users are informed consumers with the ability to make rational choices. Yet that is not often the case, King said. The paradox is that while people say they care about data privacy, they still continue to use services that don’t protect their data.

For instance, King pointed out how a student might not want to use Facebook but is still essentially forced to use it if their club communications occur on the platform. Kerry also noted the aggregation of individuals’ data — such as genetic information — can increase the power of companies that collect such information.

“It’s not as much that we’re just willingly giving out data because we don’t care,” King said. “It’s that the whole system is gamed against us as individual consumers.”

The panel then discussed the illusion of choice that social media algorithms like TikTok and YouTube can present. Reynolds noted that in reality, users are often selecting between things that the algorithm has already pre-selected for them.

Panelists also brought up legislation around data privacy, such as the proposed American Data and Privacy Protection Act that would force companies to “design for privacy by default,” according to King. King also noted the need for implementing rules to protect the data privacy of children.

“Having normative boundaries on how that information is used, how it’s shared and what is collected is the essential component to information privacy protection,” Kerry said. “The opportunity that we have now with the American Data Privacy and Protection Act is to … create a system where we can trust that our information is being used in ways that are consistent with our expectations.”

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SEPTEMBER 26, 2022