Facebook privacy concerns highlight combined data-ethics course adoption trend
- Concerns over tech companies' ability to responsibility handle personal data — for instance, polls showing fewer than half of Americans trust Facebook to protect users' information, according to Reuters — underscores a recent trend within higher education of institutions adopting interdisciplinary courses combining computer science and ethics.
- Garlin Gilchrist, executive director of the University of Michigan's School of Information Center for Social Media Responsibility, said in an experts advisory statement that institutions have a unique role in providing a platform where prospective tech industry employees can learn hard data skills and the social implications around them, noting "It will take a collective effort" of higher ed researchersand "policymakers, media companies and users to establish new norms, better understand roles, and create real accountability mechanisms for all parties."
As more major tech companies like Facebook face public scrutiny over their handling of user data, there grows a need for graduates to know the societal implications of the software they develop. Erik Gordon, clinical assistant professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, said Facebook is not the only company dealing with these types of privacy scandals and recognizing that its revenue model could be disrupted.
"The data scandal means that Facebook has to consider a new model in which it is responsible for content. That is a costly model. It's a model that will lose posters and viewers," said Gordon in the experts advisory. "Facebook is not the only company facing threats. Twitter could be hurt even more because it may gather a higher proportion of its revenue from data than at Facebook."
Subsequently, greater numbers of colleges and universities are recognizing the business case for creating blended data and ethics courses, as students become attracted to such offerings that help them stand out within the labor pool for lucrative tech jobs.
For example, Dustin Loeffler, associate professor of cyber security and information systems at Maryville University, told Education Dive his institution started offering these interdisciplinary courses because of student demand. He added Maryville combined ethics and philosophy courses with technical courses because "students wanted this, they wanted to be more well-rounded."
"In the last presidential election we really saw the outcomes that technology can drive. Students I've worked with have really had their eyes opened up during this time more than they ever had, and this request for this ethical component embedded in the technical curriculum has turned into a sort of organic movement," said Loeffler.
- Michigan News Facebook under fire: U-M experts available
Follow Shalina Chatlani on Twitter