Privacy in the Digital Age

Course Number: 95-806

Department: Heinz College

Location: Pittsburgh

Units: 6

Semester Offered: Fall

Privacy is a complex and multi-faceted concept. This course combines technical, economic, legal, psychological, ethical, and policy perspectives to present a holistic view of its role and function in the digital age.

The reduction of the cost of storing and manipulating information has led organizations to capture increasing amounts of information about individual behavior. New trade-offs have emerged for parties involved with privacy-enhancing or intrusive technologies: individuals want to avoid the misuse of the information they pass along to others, but they also want to share enough information to achieve satisfactory interactions; organizations want to know more about the parties with whom they interact, but they do not want to alienate them with policies deemed as intrusive. Is there a “sweet” spot that satisfies the interests of all parties? Is there a combination of technological solutions, economic incentives, and legal safeguards that is acceptable for the individual and beneficial to society? This course tries to address the above questions.


Class format

Lecture and project-based

Home department


Target audience

Heinz College students.

Background required

No background required.

Learning objectives

The course aims at presenting a holistic view of its role and function in the digital age, and at providing a critical understanding of:

  • technological aspects of privacy (privacy concerns raised by new IT such as the Internet, wireless communications, and computer matching; tracking techniques and data mining; privacy enhancing technologies and anonymous protocols, …),
  • economic aspects (economic models of the market for privacy, financial risks caused by privacy violations, the value of customer information, …),
  • legal aspects (laissez-faire versus regulated approaches, US versus EU legal safeguards, …),
  • managerial implications (the emerging role of Chief Privacy Officers, compulsory directives and self-regulative efforts, …), and
  • policy aspects (trade-offs between individual privacy rights and societal needs, …)

Faculty and instructors who have taught this course in the past

Alessandro Acquisti