Problem Statement

As you read this sentence, your smartphone is hard at work collecting a wide variety of data about you including your GPS location and the number of steps you've walked. Your phone may also be tracking the location of friends and family and “listening” for key words (e.g., “Hey Google…”). It also has the password to your bank account and a complete record of your calls and text messages. You can use simple data to help tell your own stories (e.g., how far you walk each day), but it can be used by others to draw conclusions about you. You might be surprised to learn how much information can be deduced about a person from simple data like location, speed, health, moods, political party, and religion. Whether this information is accurate or not, it can also be used to make big decisions from how much you are charged for purchases to whether you get a job. Algorithms designed with the intention of helping people (e.g., identifying someone at risk of suicide) can also be used to deny opportunities. Although the potential uses of simple data can be both cool and terrifying, how can we gain the benefits we want while controlling the misuses we don’t want?

This year’s Young Scholars will explore questions such as: 

  • What are the main issues/problems caused by collecting this simple information? How does this information cause these issues?
  • How can simple data like GPS location reveal more complex and private information?
  • What are the main positive applications/features created by collecting this simple data?
  • Who would benefit the most from this data? Who would be hurt the most? (communities, individuals, institutions, government)
  • How do our cognitive biases influence how data is collected and used?
  • Do the benefits from collecting simple data outweigh the potential issues caused by abusing the data?
  • How can we mitigate the adverse effects of users’ data on big decisions? 

Your Challenge

This year’s Young Scholars will be challenged to consider how simple data that is collected about people can and should be used. Working with Clarkson professors, you will explore the powerful uses of data about you from personal storytelling to helping people in need to algorithmic discrimination in areas such as hiring, housing, credit, and criminal justice.

You will be tasked with exploring ways to use data in cool ways, give individuals and communities more control over their data, and limit how data can be used by third parties. You will grapple with ethical considerations and contemplate potential unintentional consequences of how data is used. At the end of the week, you will present your proposals to guest panelists. 

From your research, you will:

  • Identify all stakeholders who are either positively or negatively involved in handling users’ data.
  • Evaluate the most critical advantage and disadvantage of collecting user' data.
  • Identify the difference between social media policies on users’ data usages for different purposes.
  • Characterize users’ simple data based on types and in terms of application.
  • Determine different applications of users’ data, then evaluate the risk of each application to individuals and society. 

Expected Outcomes

Participants in the project will be expected to be able to:

  • Understand the economic, psychological, and social impacts of taking advantages from users’ data.
  • Propose solutions to mitigate the abusition of users’ simple data.
  • Understand social media different policies on usage of users’ data.
  • Articulate the nuanced ethical considerations in using simple data.

At the end of the week, Young Scholars students will present their proposals to guest panelists. Students who successfully complete the program and meet the admission requirements will receive a $4,000 scholarship ($1,000 per year) towards tuition if they attend The Clarkson School or Clarkson University full time for their undergraduate education. Please note that $1,000 per year is the maximum scholarship amount a student can receive for attending Clarkson University summer programs, no matter how many programs he/she/they attend.

To download the application and for further information, please visit the Young Scholars main page.