Reading Group Discussion Guides

Matters of Privacy | Summer 2023

In the Summer of 2023, we launched our first reading group. The aims of this inaugural group were:

  • To provide trust and safety professionals and other stakeholders in the trust and safety field with a structured opportunity to read and discuss T&S related literature;
  • To convene a range of stakeholders (e.g., T&S professionals, academic researchers, civil society organizations) for collaborative conversations; 
  • To provide a meaningful way for a range of T&S stakeholders to engage with and respond to T&S related literature, including books and academic articles.

Additionally, this reading group provided opportunities for participants to meet one another and form new professional relationships.

What We Read

The Right to Privacy

“The Right to Privacy” by Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis appeared in the Harvard Law Review in December 1890. 

Warren, an American attorney from Boston, Massachusetts, began his practice after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1877. Brandeis, an American attorney from Louisville, Kentucky, met Warren at Harvard, where the former graduated first in class and the latter graduated second in class. Together, they established the Boston law firm of Nutter McClennen & Fish in 1879. Brandeis later served as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court (1916-1939). Warren eventually left law to oversee his family’s paper production business.

Consider that, in 1890 in the United States, the United States Army massacred nearly three hundred Lakota people at Wounded Knee, Jim Crow laws impacted nearly every part of American life, and the new State of Wyoming had just passed woman suffrage, becoming the first to permanently grant women the right to vote.

Directly relevant to “The Right to Privacy,” in 1890 newspapers often featured prominent families (like Warren’s) in their “society pages,” fairly inexpensive portable cameras were becoming more widely available, and the public-private distinction was beginning to erode (Glancy, 1979). That is, both technological developments and shifting societal attitudes were impacting the spread of information about people’s private lives.

Writing about Warren and Brandeis’ article, Dorothy J. Glancy notes: “In simplest terms, for Warren and Brandeis the right to privacy was the right of each individual to protect his or her psychological integrity by exercising control over information which both reflected and affected that individual’s personality.”

As you read Warren and Brandeis’ article, ask yourself what “the right to privacy” and “the right to be let alone” mean today—and how these rights may differ and for whom they apply.

Discussion Prompts

  1. What did you think of the reading? What stood out to you as the most interesting, controversial, provocative, and/or insightful passage? Why?
  2. Warren and Brandeis open with the argument that it is “necessary from time to time to define anew” the common law, citing (in the next sentence) “political, social, and economic changes” as justification. What kinds of historical examples and related changes do they cite? What kinds of changes, specifically, were relevant to them at the time of writing? What kinds of changes are relevant to us, to trust and safety—to the “demands of society”—today?
  3. Warren and Brandeis rely heavily on the notion that there is a private or “domestic” sphere of our lives that should not be “published” or made public without our consent. Is this notion antiquated? If not, what does it mean in today’s world of context collapse and ubiquitous technologies? 
  4. This reading is very U.S.-centric (is, indeed, a cornerstone of U.S. law and legal thought). How does this piece compare to similar writings and/or conceptualizations of privacy from other countries and/or other cultures (even other cultures within the U.S.)? 
  5. Are there other readings and/or resources (for example, podcasts) you’d recommend to complement this article? If so, what are they?

The Fight for Privacy: Protecting Dignity, Identity, and Love in the Digital Age

Daneille Keats Citron is a Jefferson Scholars Foundation Schenck Distinguished Professor in Law, a Caddell and Chapman Professor of Law, and the Director of the LawTech Center at the University of Virginia. She has published two books: Hate Crimes in Cyberspace (2014) and The Fight for Privacy (2022). Citron has also published dozens of articles and essays since her first article in 1992.

According to the bio on her website: “Citron is an affiliate scholar at the Stanford Center on Internet and Society, Yale Information Society Project, and NYU’s Policing Project. She is a member of Axon’s advisory board on artificial intelligence ethics. As a member of the American Law Institute, she serves as an adviser to the Restatement Third, Information Privacy Principles Project and Restatement (Third) Torts: Defamation and Privacy.”

In Citron’s second book, The Fight for Privacy, she argues that “intimate privacy is fundamental to our development” and should be treated as a human and civil right; she also argues that our intimate privacy is under threat from a range of actors–including big tech and the government. A fairly good summary, written by Citron, was published in WIRED. (Or you can watch Citron’s brief overview of her book here.) Given Citron’s past publications about non-consensual intimate image sharing and sexual privacy, it’s perhaps not surprising that much of her new book (and the majority of her examples therein) focus on women and vulnerable persons. 

To date, The Fight for Privacy has been cited only a handful of times—mostly in work done by human-computer interaction (HCI) scholars—and has received overwhelmingly favorable reviews. 

Discussion Prompts (Introduction – Chapter 3)

  1. What did you think of the first part of this book? What stood out to you as the most interesting, controversial, provocative, and/or insightful passage? Why?
  2. Citron defines “intimate privacy” as the social norms that “set and fortify the boundaries around our intimate lives” and the “extent to which others have access to, and information about, our bodies; minds […]; health; sex, sexual orientation, and gender; and close relationships.” Do you think intimate privacy, as she defines it, is possible today? Why or why not?
  3. Citron argues that we “should” be able to take advantage of the possibilities offered by technology without “sacrificing our intimate privacy.” However, as discussed during our last meeting, we know that, if you don’t pay for a product, you are the product (that is, your personal data is the product). “Should” we be able to take advantage of technologies without paying for them and without sacrificing our intimate privacy? Why or why not?
  4. At the end of the Introduction, Citron writes, “Tech companies need to design their products and services with a respect for privacy, rather than scrambling to repair damage that has been inflicted, often at considerable scale,” but she also writes, “we must be wary of technical fixes.” In the next paragraph, she writes that her book “exposes the law’s failure.” Given the current state of increasing regulations relevant to T&S and today’s economy (as well as the revenue model for many platforms), what do you think about tech companies’ abilities to design products and services that protect intimate privacy? What’s the way forward?
  5. In Chapter 1, Citron writes, “Companies know that people can’t appreciate the potential perils [of sharing personal information] because the risks from data collection often materialize in the future.” Do you agree? Why or why not? Where is the space for and recognition of agency in this argument? Also, could it be that people care less about privacy today than they have in the past?
  6. In Chapter 2, Citron describes the chilling effects that intimacy privacy violations can have, resulting in women and marginalized people choosing not to pursue public roles because of potential backlash. How much of this is due to technology vs. societal norms (such as double-standards, gender expectations, racism, sexism)?
  7. In Chapter 3, Citron considers the history of surveillance by the government in the U.S. as well as today’s bureaucratic surveillance via fusion centers and pregnancy surveillance (particularly of already marginalized individuals and communities) via government assistance programs, noting that companies are often the actors giving the government access to intimate data. Are you surprised to learn about these things? How does this compare to how other countries use surveillance to monitor their citizens and residents?

Discussion Prompts (Chapters 4 – 6)

  1. What did you think of Chapters 4 – 6? What stood out to you as the most interesting, controversial, provocative, and/or insightful passage? Why?
  2. Citron begins Chapter 4 by describing the social and cultural context of Silicon Valley as a “sea of dudes” (quoting venture capitalist, John Doerr), arguing that systemic bias (specifically, sexism) has been baked into all of the digital technologies we use. (This argument has been made by many, many other scholars, including but not limited to Nathan Ensmenger, Mar Hicks, Judy Wajcman, Safiya Noble, Ruha Benjamin, etc.) For those of you who work in/with folks in Silicon Valley, has this context shifted at all? What, if anything, can we do about it?
  3. Citron ends Chapter 4 by arguing that law enforcement both ignores and perpetuates harms against women and people from marginalized communities—at times actively colluding in intimate privacy violations. For those of you who work in/with law enforcement, how have you seen this play out when it comes to digital harms? What, if anything, can T&S teams who collaborate with law enforcement do about it?
  4. At the very end of Chapter 4, Citron briefly touches on internalized shame, guilt, and blame. Research tells us that people also internalize bias and oppression (for example, internalized racism). Can we pause here for a moment and talk about how this kind of internalization might impact reporting and escalations as well as interventions?
  5. In Chapter 5, Citron tees up the central argument of her book by addressing what she describes as the “inadequacy” of law, noting that getting the “conceptual approach” is essential and breaking down both the cultural and practical challenges of getting bills related to intimate privacy passed into law. In this chapter, she also argues that Section 230 is an important piece of U.S. legislation that has “cut off important legal pathways” and had outsized effects when it comes to intimate privacy violations. Did this chapter change your opinion about and/or perspective of Section 230? If yes, how so? If no, why not?
  6. Citron presents the central argument of her book in Chapter 6: the right to intimate privacy should be a civil right. Why, according to her, is it crucial that intimate privacy be a civil right? What’s the relationship between civil rights and human rights? Has she convinced you?
  7. At the end of Chapter 6, Citron notes that both legal and social reform (the reform of norms) are required to secure intimate privacy as a civil right. Before we dive into the final chapters of the book, what’s your response to this premise? Is it possible to reform the law and social norms? Why or why not?

Discussion Prompts (Chapters 7 – Epilogue)

  1. What did you think of Chapters 7 – Epilogue? What stood out to you as the most interesting, controversial, provocative, and/or insightful passage? Why?
  2. In Chapter 7, Citron outlines her “comprehensive approach to intimate privacy violations,” which includes: removing barriers for victims; getting victims what they want; changes to criminal law; and generally shifting the language we use and our conceptualization of the problem. What do you think of her outlined approach? What might work? What might not? How do we incentivize these changes when so many different stakeholders are involved? Should we?
  3. At the end of Chapter 7, Citron discusses why appeals to the First Amendment and free speech do not stand in the way of but rather support her approach to intimate privacy violations. Does she convince you? 
  4. Of particular relevance to our next reading is the next to the last paragraph in Chapter 7 about the regulation of fake intimate images; she argues that whether someone was engaged in pornography is “objectively verifiable.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
  5. In Chapter 8, Citron argues that “entities in control of virtual platforms and personal data” must also be held accountable for intimate privacy to be recognized as a civil right. She then spends the first part of the chapter discussing her proposed revision of Section 230. Did this chapter change your opinion about and/or perspective of Section 230? If yes, how so? If no, why not?
  6. In the second half of Chapter 8, Citron shares her four rules for privacy legislation. Rule #1 stipulates that entities shouldn’t collect intimate data unless doing so serves a legitimate purpose. Rule #2 restricts the private collection of intimate and non-intimate data (specifically, only for legitimate use and with informed, voluntary consent). Rule #3 holds companies to the duties of non-discrimination and loyalty, and Rule #4 would ban the sharing of intimate data with third parties. What do you think about these rules? Would they work as legislation? Why or why not?
  7. In Chapter 9, Citron turns her attention to social norms. What are her suggestions? How does she understand the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-profit organizations (NGOs) in shaping social norms? How does she understand the role of educational institutions and of companies? Whom do you think should be responsible for changing social norms when it comes to intimate privacy? Why?
  8. Citron’s last chapter is entitled “Hope and Change.” She shares the story of the Cyber Exploitation Task Force, of Gina Martin, and of activism and protests in South Korea. How do you walk away feeling? Are these stories enough? Why or why not?

Deepfakes, Deep Harms


This article was written by Regina Rini and Leah Cohen and published in the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy in 2022. Rini is an Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Moral and Social Cognition at York University; Cohen is Rini’s former graduate student.

In the year since Rini and Cohen’s article was published, numerous media sources (e.g., NPR, The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes) have reported that developments in AI have made it even more challenging to technically and politically address the problems posed by deepfakes. Since the start of this year, there have been more than 3,000 scholarly publications related to deepfakes (see Google Scholar). Clearly, there’s growing interest in this topic among the general public and academics.

What’s interesting about Rini and Cohen’s article is that, rather than trying to solve/resolve the issue of deepfakes, they offer a philosophical framework for understanding the personal harms associated with them: “We will assume that a solution is not immediately forthcoming. Our goal instead is to illustrate why a solution is urgently needed. What are the harms that deepfakes might cause if left unchecked?”

Discussion Prompts

  1. What did you think of the reading? What stood out to you as the most interesting, controversial, provocative, and/or insightful passage? Why?
  2. What are the “more subtle dangers” of deepfakes according to Rini and Cohen?
  3. Rini and Cohen argue that “even those unpersuaded by feminist objections to traditional pornography ought to recognize the moral harm” of deepfakes when it comes to virtual domination? Do you agree with this argument? Why or why not?
  4. What is illocutionary harm? How might it be similar to what Miranda Fricker describes as testimonial injustice? How is it specific to deepfakes?
  5. What is panoptic gaslighting? Do you agree with Rini and Cohen that repeated and intentionally insidious uses of deepfakes could lead to a victim doubting their memory? Why or why not?
  6. In their conclusion, Rini and Cohen write, “Whether in objectifying frankenporn, cruel illocutionary harm, or identity-sapping panoptic gaslighting, these uses of deepfakes show the extent that human ethical life is dependent on our epistemic relations.” What does this mean?
  7. How do you read Rini and Cohen’s article in light of “The Right to Privacy” and The Fight for Privacy?