Browse all articles

From Working the Room to Working the Zoom: Off We Go to the First Virtual Privacy Law Scholars Conference (PLSC)

Jill Bronfman | June 23, 2020

On March 16, 2020, early on in our understanding of the coronavirus pandemic, the Privacy Law Scholars' Conference (PLSC) organizers proactively announced that its June conference would be held online rather than in person. In a rare silver lining to the pandemic, we were supposed to be at another conference that was canceled, and were instead able to attend the PLSC conference virtually. At some point, we hope that the canceled Gonzaga law school conference on human rights law will proceed, and regardless we will continue the research that was accepted for Gonzaga, on the impact of online activity on young women's privacy rights. 

The PLSC is a symposium of research on privacy, which is usually held in alternate years at the University of California at Berkeley and in Washington, D.C. PLSC attendance is by invitation only, and is filled with a VIP roster of academic, policy, and corporate privacy professionals. Papers are selected for discussion by a team of the top privacy experts in the world, and it was an honor for us to be included not only as participants in the conference this year, but as researchers and to have our paper featured. 

Our main attraction was when we presented our paper in progress: "Hey, Google, Where's My Amazon Alexa?: An Intersectional Map of Where We Are on Virtual Assistant Privacy Policies, Security Standards, and Real-Life Use." Our paper covered several aspects of our work in privacy at Common Sense, including privacy policy evaluations, device testing, and qualitative as well as quantitative media research. We met with our commenter in advance, and so we were well prepared to discuss questions we hadn't considered, like who or what is a policy annotator? As a matter of fact, it's the software our privacy team produced in-house to assist in analyzing privacy policies. And while we were answering this question, we realized that we are also the policy annotators in the sense that we still have a significant human component to creating a useful rating for privacy policies, terms of use, and the other privacy-related policies that may be included in our rating system.

Our participation at PLSC primarily consisted of presenting our paper, but we also had the opportunity to offer input based on our experience and research in student and child privacy law for other papers in the seven parallel sessions, and we attended different break-out sessions. In addition, I conducted an informal social session during one of the breaks. The social session was entitled, "Managing Interns, Research Assistants, and New Hires: Let's Discuss Delegating and Sharing Work Online" and I led a discussion about hiring, training, and working with new privacy scholars in a fully online environment. 

While we hope that the next PLSC is in a live format, the online format did enable us to share our work and network with the top scholars in the privacy field. During the week after the conference, we were able to have live and asynchronous follow-up meetings and reinforce the brief interactions we had during the two conference days. For example, we were able to reach out to other privacy scholars and discuss research synergies and possible joint projects for the future. 

Our paper generated an overwhelmingly positive response from our presentation audience, and we are grateful to feel support from the academic community on such an important topic. We left feeling inspired and encouraged by how our upcoming research will place the spotlight on increasing awareness about kids' privacy. We are looking forward to the next opportunity to reach out to our multidisciplinary stakeholders in this field and to present our privacy research -- not only to fellow privacy scholars and practitioners, but also to educators, policymakers, vendors, and the public.