Conferences: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly aspects
I attended a couple of conferences this week that are outside my usual community. Taking stock of and interacting with a new crowd is always a very interesting experience.
The first was the IAPP Practical Privacy Series. The International Association of Privacy Professionals came about as a result of the fact that the Chief Privacy Officer (and equivalent) positions have suddenly emerged — over the last decade — and become ubiquitous. The role can be broadly described as “privacy compliance.” A big part of the initial impetus seems to have been HIPAA compliance, but the IAPP composition has now diversified greatly, because virtually every company is sitting on a pile of consumer data. There was even someone from Starbucks.
I spoke about anonymization. I was trying to answer the question, “I need to share/sell my data and you’re telling me that anonymization is broken. So what should I do?”. It’s always a fun challenge to make computer science accessible to a non-tech audience (largely lawyers in this case). I think I managed reasonably well.
Next was the ACM Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference (which goes on until Friday). As I understand it, CFP was born at a time when “Cyberspace” was analogous to the Wild West, and there was a big need for self-governance and figuring out the emerging norms. The landscape is of course very different now, since the Internet isn’t a band of outlaws anymore but integrated into normal society. The conference has accordingly morphed somewhat, although a lot of the old crowd still definitely comes here.
The quality of the events I attended were highly variable. I checked out the “unconferences,” but only a couple had a meaningful level of participation and the one I went to seemed to devolve pretty quickly into a penis-waving contest. The session I liked best was a tutorial by Mike Godwin (of Godwin’s law, now counsel for the Wikimedia foundation) on Cyberlaw, mainly First Amendment law.
CFP has parallel sessions. I had a great experience with that format at the Privacy Law Scholars Conference, but this time I’m not so sure — I’m regularly finding conflicts among the sessions I want to attend.
I’m bummed about the fact that there is really no mechanism for me to learn about conferences that are relevant to my interests but are outside my community. (I only learned about the IAPP workshop because I was invited to speak, and CFP purely coincidentally.) Do other researchers face this problem as well? I’m curious to hear about how people keep abreast. I mean, it’s 2010, and this is exactly the kind of problem that social media is supposed to be great at solving, but it’s not really working for me.