Schedule for CSC 199/299:
Social Implications of Computing
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.
- Thur. Jan. 14: Introduction and
Brainstorming of Topics
- Tue. Jan. 19: Changes Brought on by
Computing and the Internet
Reading: Textbook Chapter 1
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.
- Thur. Jan. 21: Privacy
Reading: Textbook Sections 2.1–2.2
- Tue. Jan. 26:
Reading: Textbook Sections 2.3–2.4
- Thur. Jan. 28:
Reading: Textbook Sections 2.5–2.6
Pick one of the following topics and address it in an essay of at least
1000 words. 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?
- [exercise 1.23 in 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?
- Kim Dotcom was the founder of the now-defunct megaupload.com,
alleged by US authorities to have “generated more than $175M in
criminal proceeds and caused more than $500B in harm to copyright
owners.” In 2010, Dotcom fled Hong Kong for New Zealand,
where he has for several years been fighting attempts to extradite him
to the US (he lost the latest round the week before Christmas).
In 2013 he launched mega.nz, 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
- Tue. Feb. 2:
(No new reading for today.)
- Thur. Feb. 4:
Reading: Textbook Sections 3.1–3.3
- Tue. Feb. 9:
(No new reading for today.)
Learn about privacy on Facebook. Read the
in its entirety.
Also read the “details
If you are a member of Facebook, examine your settings for
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
Again, explain the principles behind your choice.
Finally, do an Internet search to find information on one or more of the
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.
- Thur. Feb. 11:
Reading: Textbook Sections 3.4–3.6
- Tue. Feb. 16: Computer Crime
Reading: Textbook Sections 5.1–5.2
- Thur. Feb. 18:
Reading: Textbook Sections 5.3–5.4
- Tue. Feb. 23: Intellectual Property
Reading: Textbook Sections 4.1–4.2
- Thur. Feb. 25:
Reading: Textbook Sections 4.3–4.5
“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
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:
Is the public disclosure of private information, without permission,
ever ethically acceptable? Ethically obligatory?
What ethical obligations, if any, does a whistleblowing site have to
verify the accuracy of the information it posts?
What ethical obligations, if any, does it have to redact or delay the
disclosure of information to minimize any potential harm that may
What obligations does a government have to take action if a
whistleblowing site breaks its laws? What should be the response of the
international community when the laws of different nations conflict?
Does a private organization have any recourse if its private information
is posted online?
- Tue. & Thur. Mar. 1 & 3: Open
(Tue. morning and Thur. afternoon sections)
Guest lecture by Mary Ann Mavrinac,
Vice Provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of River
Also browse the following:
- Basken, Paul. Universities yelp as Elsevier pulls back on free access. The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 29, 2015.
- Expensive journals drive academics to break copyright law. NPR-WXXI, February 21, 2016.
- Ruff, Corinne. Librarians find themselves caught between journal pirates and publishers. The Chronicle of Higher Education. February 18, 2016.
- Straumsheim, Carl. ‘Predatory’ publishing up. Inside Higher Ed, October 1, 2015.
- Tennant, Jon and Ross Mounce. Open Glossary.
- Wexler, Ellen. Subscription scare fuels worries over who controls data that scholars need. The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 30, 2015.
- Wexler, Ellen. What a mass exodus at a linguistics journal means for scholarly publishing. The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 5, 2015.
- Tue. & Thur. Mar. 1 & 3: Law
(Tue. afternoon and Thur. morning sections)
Guest lecture by Jason Fickett, Supervisory Special Agent,
Cyber Intrusion Task Force, FBI-Buffalo Division
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
(Your completed paper, due at the end of the semester, should be
about 4000 words [12–15 pages, depending on formatting]).
- (Mar. 7–11: Spring Break)
- Tue. Mar. 15: Online Education
Guest lecture by Eric
UR Associate Vice President for Online Learning and
Associate Professor, Warner School of Education
(Prof. Scott out of town)
Please bring a smartphone, tablet, or laptop with you to
- Thur. Mar. 17: University IP
Guest lecture by Reid Cunningham, Associate Patent Counsel,
(Prof. Scott out of town)
- Tue. Mar. 22:
- Thur. Mar. 24:
- Tue. Mar. 29:
- Thur. Mar. 31: Civil Liberties
Guest lecture by
Iman Abid, Community Organizer, Genesee Valley Chapter,
New York Civil Liberties Union
- Tue. Apr. 5: Errors, Failures, and Risks
Reading: Textbook Sections 8.1–8.2
- Thur. Apr. 7:
Reading: Textbook Sections 8.3–8.4
- Tue. Apr. 12: Artificial
class led by TA Richard Lange
- Thur. Apr. 14:
- Tue. Apr. 19: Sustainability—Toxins
- Thur. Apr. 21:
- Sun. Apr. 24:
Discuss, in a paper of approx. 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 1.
They will have until Sunday evening, May 8 to submit revisions.
- Tue. Apr. 26: