Ethics in Tech Forum hosts virtual Ethics in Tech Conference


Mark Hu

Bill James, chair of the Santa Clara County Democrat Party, answers a question in a Q&A held after his talk about data privacy. James cautioned students to be mindful of their actions on the web, warning that their digital footprint is tracked by companies.

by Mark Hu, STEM Editor

The upper school Ethics in Technology club held their first virtual Ethics in Tech Conference (ETCON) on Oct. 23, hosting two speakers who discussed security and data privacy.

The conference began right after school at 3:30 p.m. with introductions by the club followed by a talk given by Bill James, patent lawyer and chair of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party. James discussed his work on data and security in regards to politics and how corporations use forms of social media to reach out to the public, encouraging participants to be wary of their data footprint.

“Be skeptical of the information that’s presented to you. Don’t assume you’re seeing information that’s generally being submitted, and don’t assume that it’s consistent with information that’s being presented to others,” James said. “Going to the information yourself with the sources that you trust will validate things.”

After a short break, Jason Lin (12), co-President of the club, introduced Alastair MacTaggart, founder of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), who talked about the development of the CCPA and Proposition 24, a second initiative to “set a floor on privacy in California” that would increase the enforcement of privacy protection if passed in the 2020 elections. Students were able to ask questions in a Q&A format after both talks.

Alistair MacTaggert discusses the main goals of the California Consumer Privacy Act in his talk. He also explained the parts of Proposition 24, which would set a floor on consumer privacy if passed. (Mark Hu)

After the two presenters, participants were able to choose between two Zoom breakout rooms to attend a discussion of privacy versus public health led by Upper School Speech and Debate Teacher, Scott Odekirk, through a simulation of a data collection app, or a talk about discrimination and AI bias led by Ethics in Technology club officers.

The club held their first ever Ethics in Technology conference in the Nichols Auditorium in March of last year, inviting several speakers, and this year, moving the event to a virtual setting provided more options for growth.

“In some ways, [going virtual] was better because we could invite [more well-known] speakers as it’s just an online conference so they didn’t have to travel to Harker,” Jason said.

The officers also utilized the resources over Zoom to their best abilities to increase audience engagement. Mr. Odekirk led participants in a discussion by utilizing the chat functionality, which was also used to facilitate Q&A sessions.

Mr. Scott Odekirk, upper school speech and debate teacher, leads a simulation on data privacy, regarding a hypothetical app used to track movement to detect COVID spread. He used the chat function on Zoom to gage audience approval and encouraged participants to elaborate on their decisions. (Mark Hu)

“We tried to increase the amount of audience engagement by including breakout rooms. We had Mr. Odekirk in one room, and in [another] room, Krish and I led some AI demos and had a discussion on AI prejudice and bias, similar to our club meetings,” Sidra Xu (12), the other co-President of the club, said.

The officers hoped that students would be more thoughtful about their online decisions, a point they addressed in each phase of the conference.

In general, I hope that [participants have] become more aware of the implications of privacy loss,” Jason said. “Hopefully, people will have a mental barrier between just creating technology and not thinking about it versus really contemplating what its societal effect will be.”

The increased audience participation through, for example, discussions within breakout rooms provided a better experience overall for both the club and speakers and participants

“A lot of the discussions about limitations, rights that people have and the chain of custody was new information to me, and I really enjoyed learning about it,” Rahul Mulpuri (10), who attended the conference, said. “It [made] me want to be more involved in activism in terms of trying to correct these issues.”