Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ethics News: Google's new privacy policy renews debate on internet privacy

After an extremely interesting ethics bowl with IPRO 312, where a number of students filled me in on some of the more disturbing developments surrounding the that status of online privacy (or lack of it)   I decided to to a bit more investigating about Google's new privacy policy. Most of us who use one or more of Google's applications such as Gmail  have received some notice about the changes the company plans to make to their policy. We have certainly been given advance warning. And Google provides some great free services for users, for which we give them the right to use our personal information and display personalized ads based on   this information. But have you stopped to actually read and think about how much control you actually have over the use of this information, and what the implications of this new privacy policy might be? As many universities like IIT are now relying more and more on Google to take care of our daily calendars, student email, and the like, what are the privacy implications for our students, staff and faculty?

There are ways to opt out of allowing Google to use this data, and I don't think I am going to relinquish my use of Gmail anytime soon. But it does raise some questions about how much privacy we are willing to let go of so companies like Google can make our Web experience more personalized.

Certainly the EU and the U.S. Congress are weighing in. Earlier this month the European Union's data protection authorities released a letter asking Google to delay the their new policy until they had verified that it does not break the block EU data protection allows. Google responded that it had briefed data protection agencies beforehand and had heard of no substantial concerns. Today, France's CNIL (Commission nationale de l'informatique et des liberteshas stated that the policy appears to violate EU data protection laws, and has reiterated the earlier request to delay the policy.

 In the U.S.  legislation  that would have potentially stopped the efforts of Web companies to collect consumer fell short of doing so. After years of negotiation, a set of privacy guidelines were unveiled on February 23 that urged Web companies to install "do not track" technology on browsers but fell short of requiring it. The guidelines urge for more transparency and more user-control over their personal data, and a number of companies have agreed to follow these voluntary guidelines. 

Here are some resources to scan if you are interested in getting more information.

Google's information on changes to the privacy policy, including the new policy that will begin on March 1st, and the older version.

New York Time's Bits Blog on Google

PC Magazine on Google's new privacy policy, and how a recent study has shown that most users are still uninformed about how the changes will affect them.

What do you think? Do we have a responsibility to be an informed consumer in how we use the web, or do you think Web companies should go further in making their privacy policies more transparent? Or, should there be more legal limits on how companies can store and use our personal data?

Friday, February 17, 2012

When should we put limits on scientific research?

The scientific community is divided about what should be done about the report last month that flu researchers in the Netherlands and Wisconsin had created a version of the H5N1 virus that highly lethal and easily transmissible. The scientists involved have agreed to suspend their research for 60 days to give the international community time to discuss the ramifications of their work. Both Nature and Science Magazine have published a letter from the principal investigators of the two laboratories who were working on the modified virus on January 20th  discussing the positive health benefits that are likely to derive from their work and also acknowledging the fears and public debate prompted by their announcement.

Meanwhile, a closed-door meeting to discuss the controversial bird flu research has recently been held at the World Health Organization (WHO) to discuss the health and security risks posed by this type of research. Critics of the research worry that the newly created viruses might escape or be used as a bio weapon and potentially kill large numbers of people. Supporters of the research claim that the dangers of the engineered virus causing a pandemic are exaggerated due to the extreme safety measures being used in the labs, and that this type of research is essential to see how the bird flu circulating out in the wild might someday mutate and cause a pandemic.

The WHO meeting includes scientists whose labs are involved in the controversial research, other flu virologists, government officials, editors from science journals who wish to publish the results of the research, and one expert on research ethics. The WHO plans to release the results of the meeting after it has concluded.

For more information, see

Greenfield-Boyce, Nell. "Questions About Bird Flu Research Swirl Around Private WHO Meeting. January 17, 2012. National Public Radio.  http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/02/17/147018709/questions-about-bird-flu-research-swirl-around-private-who-meeting

Grady, Denise. "Scientists to Pause Research on Deadly Strain of Bird Flu" January 20, 2012. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/21/science/scientists-to-pause-research-on-deadly-strain-of-bird-flu.html?_r=1&scp=4&sq=bird%20flu&st=cse.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Nanotechnology: Small is Beautiful - February 23, 2012

Mark Ratner was one of the first scientists to begin seriously thinking and writing about the potential social and ethical implications of nanotechnology. We would recommend attending this talk! 

The Chicago Council on Science and Technology presents:

Nanotechnology: Small is Beautiful

When: Thursday, February 23, 2012; 5:00pm Registration & Reception; 6:00pm Program

Where: Northwestern University, Hughes Auditorium, 303 East Superior, Chicago, downtown campus

·         Mark A. Ratner, PhD., Professor and Chair, Department of Chemistry and CoDirector, Initiative for Sustainability and Energy, Northwestern University and
·         Milan Mrksich, PhD., Henry Wade Rogers Professor, Department of Chemistry, Northwestern University

Abstract: Nanoscale materials have a great potential for positive societal impact. For example synthesized nanoscale materials and systems can be used to create innovative applications and technologies that solve problems in the biological and medical sciences. This program will highlight the essentials of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology including its history, societal importance and future implications and will discuss the interplay between nanoscale structures, properties and functions.

Fees: $10 Advance Registration / $15 Door / $5 Student

General Info: Please visit www.c2st.org for detailed program description and registration. Discounted parking will be made available at the 222 E. Huron St. garage.

Also, be sure to check out CSEP's NanoEthicsBank for more material on the social and ethical implications of nanotechnology.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ethics News: With Tips From Whistle-Blowers, More Hands on Deck in Pollution Cases

An article in the New York Times discusses the recent trend of whistleblowers helping expose companies who illegally pollute- and in some cases receiving large cash bounties for their efforts. These individuals - who are often engineers or other employees of the polluting companies - have helped the federal government successfully pursue a growing number of cases in Baltimore and other port cities across the country.

Whistleblowers often face some form of retribution from companies who they report on. With this in mind, do you think it is ethical for whistleblowers to receive a monetary reward for their actions?

To read the full article please see:

Emery, Theo. "With Tips from Whistleblowers, More Hands on Deck in Pollution Cases." New York Times, February 13, 2012.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Screening of a new Film of the Cold Fusion Case..February 11th, 2012

A Chicago event worth attending....

137 Films in association with The Chicago Council on Science and Technology Present
‘a-work-in-progress' screening of
The Believers
Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Believers tells the strange story of Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, chronologically documenting the summer of 1989 as well as new developments today. The tale includes mystery, scandal, personal tragedy, and scientific wonder.

Understanding of events shifts depending on who is telling the story. A mixture of interviews, vérité footage, archival media, scientific animation, and reenactments will compliment interviews with scientists, journalists, politicians, and officials. Woven together, they paint a vivid, often contradicting account of what happened.
Where: Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 North State Street, Chicago
When: Saturday, February 11, 2012. 11:00am Registration; 12:00pm Screening
Who: Q&A with Clayton Brown, Interim Executive Director and Amy Ellison, Development Director at 137 Films
Fees: $15.00 non-members / $5.00 Students. Please visit www.c2st.org to register.
General Info: RSVP REQUIRED. Information on getting to the Film Center is available at: http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/content/visitorinfo

Friday, February 3, 2012

New Website Design!

CSEP has just launched the new and improved version of its website! Along with improving the navigability of the site, we have also launched an entirely new version of the Codes of Ethics Collection, which is fully searchable by keyword and indexed by a number of different subject terms. Please take some time to browse the site and give us your feedback.