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UC Showcases Project Shedding Light on How Harvard Uses Student Data

Harvard's Undergraduate Council embarked upon a project to increase awareness of how Harvard collects student data.
Harvard's Undergraduate Council embarked upon a project to increase awareness of how Harvard collects student data. By Aiyana G. White
By Hannah J. Martinez, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard’s Undergraduate Council launched a weeklong campaign last month to support a project aimed at explaining how the University collects and uses student data.

The campaign — dubbed the Transparency Project — started as a final project created by Yousuf Bakshi ’23 and Anjali Chakradhar ’23 in the class Computer Science 105: “Privacy and Technology,” taught by Computer Science professor James “Jim” H. Waldo. Bakshi and Chakradhar are Council members who represent Mather House and Cabot House, respectively.

The project — a collaboration with newly formed club Harvard Undergraduate Initiative for Technology and Society — aimed to bolster student awareness about data privacy, Chakradhar said.

“We want to help build the next generation of data-aware citizens who can then go on to advocate for themselves and other people,” Chakradhar said. “We thought that the best place to start was right here.”

The Council decided to publicize the project in a general meeting on Nov. 15, passing legislation that Bakshi and Chakradhar wrote to establish the project and use the Council’s social media channels to increase exposure. The legislation, which passed unanimously, asserted that “Harvard students are largely unaware of what data is collected on them by the University, creating an unchecked system with students functionally unable to advocate for their own privacy rights.”

Content covered in the project — now published on the Council’s website — includes a map of video surveillance around Harvard Yard, a review of the exam proctor software Proctorio, and what data Harvard can access from students’ University Google Drives.

Timothy J. “Tim” Bailey, a spokesperson for Harvard University Information Technology, and University spokesperson Jason A. Newton did not respond to a request for comment on the project.

According to Bakshi, members of Yale’s College Council reached out to Undergraduate Council leadership to work with Bakshi and Chakradhar on establishing a Transparency Project at Yale. The Yale College Council did not respond to a request for comment.

Bakshi and Chakradhar also said they already have plans for future iterations of the project at Harvard.

“A lot of students are really interested in finding out what Harvard does differently,” Baskhi said. “That’s something we should definitely look at next time.”

They also said they were happy with the results of this year’s project.

“We really hope that students have learned a lot about their data privacy and will take this into the real world,” Bakshi said. “I really hope that people now take their data privacy seriously.”

—Staff writer Hannah J. Martinez can be contacted at hannah.martinez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinezhannahj.

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