MIT Technology and Policy Program
Kevin Paeth

Human behavior and digital privacy
March 5, 2023

While at TPP, Kevin Paeth’s research focused on digital privacy and human computer interaction. Prior to coming to MIT, Kevin was a software engineer in both the US and EU. In the  summer of 2022, with support from the TPP Internship Fund, Paeth interned with the AI policy unit of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

What was the focus of your research at TPP? What sort of knowledge and disciplines did it bring together? How did it make an impact?

As a research assistant at MIT CSAIL’s Internet Policy Research Initiative (IPRI). My research focused on digital privacy policy and human computer interaction (HCI), which currently involves conducting an empirical user study on how sensitive information about social media users can be revealed in unanticipated ways to third parties. It has required familiarity with the broad scope of information that users interact with on such platforms, the privacy controls available to them, and the clever ways these controls can be misused or circumvented despite extant regulations. Such studies motivate the importance of potential policy interventions in large platforms’ privacy controls and the third parties that can take advantage of them, while at the same time demonstrating how difficult it is to craft such interventions.

In the summer of 2022, you interned with OECD AI Policy. Who did you work with and what did you do there?

Within a team of economists and policy analysts, I liaised with the external technical experts with whom the OECD consults as part of their mandate to conduct research and develop policy notes regarding artificial intelligence. In particular, I worked on projects developing common policy components for describing and addressing AI incidents in a technically correct but accessible manner (a key focus of AI risk management frameworks and legislation in the EU and US). This involved communicating with and meeting various stakeholders, including national delegations, standards organizations, industry groups, and civil society.

How did the internship connect to your current research and future plans?

My research at IPRI focused on making key observations of current technical issues that can be used by policymakers. At the OECD, I was able to see how policymakers and related stakeholders interact with (or don’t interact with) the outputs of such research, and how it can influence their priorities. This observation applies to both digital privacy policy and AI policy, and any other field where research and innovation often move faster than law and policy.

My experience also further cemented a lesson from my TPP education, which is to remember the overwhelming importance of successful communication between technical and non-technical audiences. This communication is necessary (but not alone sufficient) for salient and legitimate policy decisions.

Lastly, this was the first experience where I was able to really apply a “jagged” skill set in software engineering and tech policy. It reminded me that I should keep engaging and developing both of these skills, regardless of whatever I do next.

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