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Informatics 171: Social Informatics

Term Paper 1



Investigate the topic. Use on-line resources, articles and/or books, etc., for background research. Don't just report. Discuss pros and cons. Evaluate. Use your own words. Quote where appropriate. Give citations for facts and quotes. Discuss how your topic relates to material covered in the text and/or in class discussions. Differentiate between ethical and legal issues where appropriate.

The paper should be approximately 3000-4000 words (roughly 6-8 pages with the format provided). Note that references, tables, and figures do not count toward the word requirement. You should have at least 8 references from reputable sources (e.g. journals, conferences, technical reports, government reports). You should not have more than a couple of web sources.


  •  Cover page with title and your name
  •  Introduction/overview of topic and issues to be discussed
  •  Background, description, and/or history of the issue
  •  Issues, various points of view
  •  Your comments or evaluation
  •  Summary
  •  List of references

Use information from your research (e.g. on-line / library / research papers) in the appropriate place(s) within your paper. Any on-line references should be from reputable sources. The project is to be done during this course. Do not turn in a paper done earlier for another course or for your job.



  • Remember what this course is about. Do not turn in a paper that is purely factual or historic (e.g., a history of the Internet, a summary of computer technology used in the military). Such papers will not get high scores. You must include discussion of issues.
  • One of the most common problems with papers is poor organisation. Write an outline. Organise your thoughts. You may use section headings to indicate the topic or purpose of sections of the paper.
  • Do not wait until late too late to get started. You may discover that information on your topic is unavailable. Start early in case you have to change topics.
  • Use a variety of sources for information and arguments. Remember that there's a lot of junk and unsupported opinion on the Web. Pay attention to quality of your sources. (If your topic is covered in the text, do not use the text as a main source. Report in more depth and/or on newer or other aspects of the topic.).
  • Prefer more up to date references over older references. Older references will have been framed in a time period and may no longer be valid. Generally, references within the past 5-10 years are better than references from 30-50 years ago.
  • If you submit a paper that you did not write at all or in which large segments are copied from other sources, it will be reported as plagiarism. Please don't do this. It is dishonest, unfair to your fellow students, and unpleasant for both you and the instructor. Write in your own words. Start early; talk to the instructor if you have problems.


Include a title and one or two paragraphs describing what you plan to do. Tell what research you plan to conduct (be specific if you can). Include at least one good reference you plan to use.

There will be a limit on the number of students doing any single topic, so it will be good to have a second topic in mind in case you choose one that too many others have chosen.



You must use the template INFM171 Template.doc provided. References should use the APA citation style (typically can copy and paste from research database).



The paper will be graded 0-100. Grading criteria include: background or history, presentation of issues and various points of view, interview or other activity, quality of argument and analysis (principles, examples, counterexamples), structure/organisation, clarity of writing, sufficient references, sufficient length, and originality. You should define terms where necessary. Be sure to read and edit your final copy before handing it in.


Library INFM 171 Course Website:

Research Librarian Point of Contact
Cate Guenther
Technology Integration and Web Services Librarian
University of Montevallo
205 665-6114


Opens Fall semester on August 27th at 9:00am. Free writing service located in Comer Hall, room 311

  • peer consultations at all stages of the writing process (brainstorming, working through writer's block,composing, or editing)
  • expertise on writing projects across the curriculum (with tutors trained in APA, Chicago, and MLA styles)
  •  walk-in, appointment, and online services
  •  group consultations




  • Drones Describe a variety of applications of drones, including useful and destructive ones. Discuss benefits and risks of drones. Discuss ways to deal with some of the risks. Describe and evaluate FAA regulation of drones. Compare with regulation of drones in other countries. Describe and evaluate various actual, proposed, or potential regulations for drones.
  • Digital money Background: What is money? Give a brief history of different kinds of money, including past examples that were not issued by governments. New money: Describe Bitcoin (or another digital money system). Why do people use it? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Consider privacy of transactions, volatility, inflation, use by criminals, etc. and compare to standard money.
  • Give some history and background about massive open online courses (MOOCs) How do they work? What aims do they have? Who enrolls in the courses? Then evaluate them. What is the completion rate? What benefits and problems have occurred? Have they fulfilled their promise? If not, is it likely just a matter of time, or are there inherent weaknesses?
  • Computers in the legal/justice system Describe systems in use, from legal databases to artificial intelligence programs. Concentrate on AI systems in sensitive applications, for example, sentencing and parole decisions. Consider the prospect of AI systems making judgments in some routine legal cases. Describe and evaluate pros and cons.
  • Cyber warfare Research debates and international agreements about nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons policies and discuss parallels and differences between those and cyber weapons.
  • Smartphones and privacy
  • Use of personal social media content in hiring and ring decisions Expand on the issues raised in Section 6.3. Describe and evaluate new cases and any signi cant court decisions or legislation.
  • Analysis of Facebook Imagine that you have been hired to analyse several Facebook features and policies from the average user's perspective and make recommendations for changes.
  • Cars that drive themselves Study progress, safety, and social issues related to an automated system such as self-driving vehicles.
  • Deep packet inspection What is it? What are its positive uses? What are its negative uses? Give examples. Consider network security, censorship, management of network trac, privacy, and any other relevant areas.
  • Devices to assist people with disabilities Describe some of the new tools and their impact. Discuss issues such as cost, any problems with these devices, etc.
  •  Identification and biometrics Choose a few recent uses of biometrics or other identification technology. Discuss benefits, actual or potential problems and abuses, and appropriate guidelines for use of such technologies. You might want to include the example of an identification chip that is implanted under a person's skin. About the size of a grain of rice, it contains personal information and emits a radio signal that identifies the person.
  • Telemedicine Describe recent applications, benefits, possible problem areas (e.g., privacy, errors, loss of personalized care).
  • Health information on the Web Research and report on Web-based health information sites, including such issues as benefits, reliability of the information, privacy protections, techniques to rate or accredit sites, and impact on medical care. You might want to also discuss the impact of (and issues related to) having one's own medical record online, either at one's health care organization's website or in the cloud.
  • Privacy on the Web What are the new issues or problems? What improvements have been made for problems discussed in the text?
  • Privacy for organisations and businesses All our discussion of privacy concerns privacy for people. There have been incidents in which sensitive information that organisations and businesses must provide to government agencies has been made public, intentionally, accidentally, or by leaks. Release of information about fund-raising, sales plans, pricing, members, or customers might aid competitors. Release of information about manufacture of, storage of, and security for certain chemicals could aid terrorists. Report on some cases and discuss reasonable extensions of principles about privacy for organisations and businesses.
  • Personal data privacy regulations in other countries Report on personal data privacy regulations, website privacy policies, and law enforcement access to personal data in one or more countries other than the United States.
  • Computing and communication technology in law enforcement Choose some examples. Describe benefits and problems. An activity for this project could include a ride-along in a police car. (A few students did this in the past and found it very instructive.) Another possible activity is to interview someone who runs or supervises the use of local law enforcement computer systems. What databases do they access? How do they prevent unauthorised access?
  • Technological responses to terrorism Describe and evaluate some of the computer-based technologies implemented or expanded after Sept. 11, 2001. Consider effectiveness, cost, impact on daily life and air travel, risks, etc., and arguments related to privacy and civil liberties.
  • Children and cellphones How do children use mobile phones? What are the benefits? What are the problems? You might want to focus on a specific age group (young children, teenagers) or cover a bigger range. Do benefits for children and families outweigh risks? What software or other systems have developed to reduce problems?
  • The global economy What are the roles and impacts of computers and communications technology in the increase of trans-border economic activity (e.g., eBay as a global garage sale; customer service workers in other countries; databases to track the origin of a cow with Mad Cow Disease; etc.)? What are the benefits? What are the problems? Is this aspect of increased globalization a good thing for people in the United States, for people in other countries, for humanity in general?
  • Safety-critical applications Find a local application to study, or study the Air Trac Control system, systems to prevent train crashes, a particular area of medical devices, or other similar topic. Describe systems in use, discuss benefits and risks.
  • Use of computer and Web technology by restaurants Investigate and discuss issues such as customer service, impact on employment, food safety, ambiance. Visit a restaurant with self-service ordering terminals. Some fast food restaurants use robotic devices for food preparation; report on one. Interview a waiter or restaurant manager. (This could be part of a paper that looks at the impact of computer automation in two or three industries or consumer services.)
  • Spam Describe and evaluate technical solutions, current legislation and regulation, and any significant proposed legislation. Some people propose that the federal government create a "Do not spam" list, like the "Do not call" list for telemarketers. Discuss privacy problems that could occur with implementation of such a list. Discuss the roles of technical and legislative solutions for spam. Consider the relevance of freedom of speech.
  • Information warfare Will the next wars be fought without bombs? Will computer networks and computer-controlled infrastructure be the targets of military hackers? What is happening now? What kind of defences are possible?
  • Recent copyright battles for music and movies Report on several recent strategies used by the entertainment industries (legal, technological, and business) to prevent unauthorised copying. Evaluate the effectiveness and ethics of the methods. Describe current controversies.
  • Free software and open source software What's happening with "free" software and open-source software now? What is their impact? What are the implications for consumers? For big companies like Microsoft?
  • Identity theft What is the current state of the problem? How have consumers and businesses changed behaviour in response to identity theft? What technical solutions have developed?
  • Hacktivism Report on specific incidents or organisations engaged in hacktivism. Compare to civil disobedience and to other kinds of hacking.
  • Are Web issues really new Choose two other technologies or innovations, such as radio, telegraph, railroads, or electricity, and nd out what ethical, social, and legal issues and controversies arose about them. Compare the problems and issues to current problems and issues about the Web. What solutions developed? How well do those solutions fit the Web?
  • Computing and the environment How do nature/conservation researchers and organisations use computing and communications technologies in their work? Describe applications that help protect the environment. Describe aspects of computers that cause environmental problems. What do environmentalists think of computers?
  • Political activism on the Net in the United States (or other politically free country) How has the Internet helped or hurt political groups outside the mainstream? How is it used by major political parties and candidates? What is the impact? How do/should current regulations about political campaigns a ect individuals and small organizations that set up web pages to support/oppose candidates and issues?
  • Politial organising in unfree countries Choose one country or a few countries that restrict political freedom. Describe how people use social networking sites and other Internet technologies to organise political events, strikes, protests, boycotts, etc. How have these techniques affected the politics of the country? How have the governments responded? What do these experiences suggest for the future of political freedom and democracy?
  • Electronic voting and Internet voting The United States and some other countries have experimented with voting on the Internet or using electronic voting machines. How successful were these attempts? Will most political elections be held on the Internet in the future? Discuss the problems of maintaining secret ballots, preventing election fraud, and providing for recounts (for both electronic voting machines and Internet voting). What other issues are relevant? How are the states (and other nations) handling these issues?
  • Violence in video/computer games What is the impact on children? How does it differ from television? Consider interviewing people who write and publish computer games to find out their policies and views about violent games.
  • The Web in schools How is the Web used in elementary schools? High schools? Are students being taught to use the Web effectively, wisely, and safely?
  • Distance learning at the university level What are the common uses? What will be the impact on universities? On adult education? Is cheating a problem?
  • Monitoring of employees' Web use and email What policies are employers using? Perhaps study a few large businesses in your area. Evaluate policies for dff erent kinds of employers (e.g., for your university, covering students, faculty, and sta , and for a software company in a highly competitive business).
  • Cyberspace communities What makes a "community"? How do cyberspace communities handle decision making, dealing with troublesome members, etc.? Find one community to study in depth, preferably one that you are a member of or have a special interest in. (Please respect the community's privacy guidelines and ask permission if quoting members.)
  • Computing and network access in other countries For example, how are computers used in rural, poor areas of Africa? Choose one country to study in depth or compare a few.
  • Science fiction and prediction Find several science fiction stories published at least 30 years ago that are set in the present time or near future and describe computer and communications technologies. Report on how closely their view of the technology corresponds to what is actually available. What social benefits and problems did they anticipate?
  • What will the world be like 50 years from now? How will electronic communications and commerce a ect the power of centralized governments? Everyday life? What will happen as computers are connected to the human body? Will human intelligence be of less value in the future? Several experts have written books addressing these issues. You could read two or three and evaluate their predictions