Skip to content

In 2023, Sanford has been at the forefront of critical discussions and groundbreaking research in the field of technology policy. From thought-provoking insights on the ethical intersections of user privacy and technology to collaborative efforts like joining the North Carolina Partnership for Cybersecurity Excellence (NC-PaCE) to enhance cybersecurity, Sanford continues to lead the way.

The school's involvement extends to addressing the challenges posed by data broker practices, the safe use of social media, fact-checking misinformation, and training the next generation of tech policy leaders. Current students, alumni, and award-winning faculty members are working to stay on the forefront. 

Sanford's active participation in these initiatives underscores its commitment to advancing technology policy, ethics, and cybersecurity in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

Here are highlights from some of the notable tech policy achievements in 2023. 


military backpack and boots, bottom half of legs, person in jeans
U.S. Military Personell at risk according to report

Another report from the Sanford Cyber Policy Program has been making headlines this year. Building off of the powerful impact of their mental health data broker report in February, the data broker team, led by  Justin Sherman, a senior fellow at Sanford, turned their focus to a major target of data brokers: U.S. military members

Along with Sherman, this new report was co-authored with Sanford students Hayley Barton, Aden Klein, Brady Kruse, and Anushka Srinivasan. The authors analyzed hundreds of data broker websites, searching for specific terms like "military" or "veteran", and then contacting data brokers directly to inquire about and purchase data including sensitive information about service members. Read the story and report here.

Joanne Kim PPS'22: Walking into a World of Opportunities

Woman looking at camera and smiling.
Joanne Kim, PPS'22

Joanne Kim (PPS'22) was the featured alum in the Oct. 2023 alumni newsletter in an interview that discussed her journey from small-town Missouri to big-data research. She also detailed how Sanford's Tech Policy program empowered her to write the Sanford Data Broker Report, while also preparing her for her current career as a Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company in Seattle. Kim's work on data brokers has had a wide-ranging impact in 2023 and continues to shape policymaking decisions in both state and national conversations. Read her story. 

Cal Newport, Bestselling Author and Technology Scholar Speaks at Sanford

Cal Newport
Cal Newport

Renowned author and technology scholar Cal Newport will speak in Duke’s Penn Pavilion on Thursday, October 5, @ 5:00 p.m. as part of the Crown Lecture in Ethics Series. The event is free and open to the public. Click here to register for your free spot.

Newport is a celebrated author and computer science professor and has gained international acclaim for his work on the ethical intersections of productivity and technology. His thought-provoking books, including "Deep Work," "Digital Minimalism," and “A World Without Email,” have revolutionized the way individuals approach their work, productivity, and well-being in an increasingly digital world.

The upcoming event promises to be a rare opportunity for students, faculty, and the broader community to engage with Newport's insights on the ethical challenges posed by our technology-driven society. His ability to blend rigorous research with practical advice has made him a sought-after speaker. Read the announcement. 

Welcome Assistant Professor Robyn Caplan

Woman smiling in black professional attire in an office
Robyn Caplan

Robyn Caplan, a new assistant professor at Sanford, has a diverse background in tech policy. She holds various affiliations, including being a Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke's Initiative for Science & Society, a Researcher Affiliate at the Data & Society Research Institute, an Affiliate at the Center for Information Technology and Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill, and a founding member of the Platform Governance Research Network.

Caplan later joined the Governance Lab at NYU, where she researched open data and its impact on government communication and public access. This work eventually led her to Data & Society, a nonprofit research organization. Here, she delved into the dynamics of open data programs and received a grant to study the control of the public sphere in the age of algorithms. This research became a pivotal moment in her career.

Now at Sanford, Caplan is teaching the Policy Journalism and Media Studies Capstone course. She looks forward to collaborating with students who grew up with social media and brings wide-ranging expertise in tech policy to Duke. She is excited to engage with colleagues across various fields within the School of Public Policy. Read about her journey to Sanford. 

Duke Joins NC-PaCE to Propel Cybersecurity Excellence in North Carolina

Headshot of David Hoffman
David Hoffman

Duke has officially joined efforts with NC State University to develop the North Carolina Partnership for Cybersecurity Excellence (NC-PaCE). This collaborative effort, which unites educational, government, and industry organizations, is dedicated to propelling the state's and the nation's cybersecurity prowess in education, research, and services to combat the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats.

Duke's participation in NC-PaCE marks an exciting milestone in the mission to enhance cybersecurity excellence across North Carolina. The coalition boasts a formidable lineup of academic institutions, including UNC-Charlotte, NC A&T, ECU, UNC-Wilmington, Forsyth Tech, Pitt Community College, and Wake Tech.

Speaking about the integration of Duke University into the NC-PaCE initiative, David Hoffman, Steed Family Professor of Cybersecurity Policy and head of Sanford's Cyber Policy Program, expressed optimism. "We look forward to Duke's cybersecurity leadership program creating synergies with the student and executive education programs offered by the other institutions. Our goal is to create a unique North Carolina cybersecurity workforce pipeline from entry-level positions up to training of C-Suite executives." Read the announcement. 

Sherman participates in White House Roundtable on Data Brokers

headshot of Justin Sherman and photo of the white house
Sherman joined other consumer data experts in the August roundtable

Sanford's data broker expert, Justin Sherman, played a key role in a recent White House roundtable focused on addressing concerns about data broker practices and their impact on privacy. Led by Arati Prabhakar, this gathering included top officials like Lael Brainard, Rohit Chopra, Lina Khan, and Brian Boynton. The event coincided with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) announcement of regulations to restrict data broker activities in line with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Sherman, representing Sanford, actively participated in the discussions alongside other representatives from organizations like Consumer Reports and Data for Black Lives. This event highlighted the urgency of addressing data broker challenges and aligns with the Biden administration's proactive approach to data privacy.

The White House's involvement and the CFPB's proposed regulations are part of a broader effort to strengthen privacy protections and counter harmful data broker practices. This reflects the administration's commitment to empowering individuals with control over their personal data and advocating for comprehensive federal privacy legislation.

These discussions demonstrate a collaborative approach among various stakeholders, including government bodies, academic institutions like Duke University, and advocacy groups. The implications extend beyond individual privacy to encompass national security and civil liberties, emphasizing the ongoing importance of this dialogue. Read about the event. 

Tech Policy Lab Partners With Beyond the Screen to Build a Safer Online Space

Student headshots from left to right horizontally.

Following the launch of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s non-profit, Beyond the Screen, researchers in the Technology Policy Lab at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy have joined forces with Beyond the Screen to spend the summer as Fellows, examining harms caused by social media. Duke Fellows, along with Fellows from Georgetown University, are collaborating on a forthcoming Wiki to itemize the harms of social platforms and levers to prevent those harms to start building a shared understanding. Creating this context of accountability will describe what “good” can look like for social platforms, and pave the way for product safety regulation. Duke Fellows receive funding through Duke University’s Applied Ethics+ Program. Read more about this partnership. 

Duke Reporter's Lab: Misinformation spreads, but fact-checking has leveled off


Map of countries with highlighted fact checking areas.
Global fact-checking isn't keeping up with the spread of misinformation

Duke Reporter's Lab has released their latest findings from the 10th annual global fact-checking census. 

Misinformation spreads, but fact-checking has leveled off authored by Mark StencelErica Ryan and Joel Luthor from the Reporters' Lab (part of Sanford) finds that the growth of fact-checking outlets has slowed down, despite increasing concerns about the impact of manipulated media and political lies. As of 2023, there are 417 active fact-checkers worldwide, verifying and debunking misinformation in over 100 countries and 69 languages. This number is roughly the same as in 2022 and 2021, indicating a leveling off of fact-checking's growth.

While fact-checking sites have grown by 47% since 2018, the rate of growth has significantly declined compared to previous years. The article notes regional variations, with fact-checking projects in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America experiencing a growth spurt before 2020, while North American fact-checking slowed down. Overall, the fact-checking movement has plateaued in most parts of the world. Read more about the report. 


Man is shown with microphone testifying to congress.
Sherman testifies to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce

In a pivotal event in Washington, D.C., Sanford's research took center stage as Justin Sherman, Senior Fellow & Research Lead of Sanford’s Data Brokerage Project, testified as an expert witness before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The hearing, titled "Who is Selling Your Data?", was prompted by Sanford's data broker research, and Chair Morgan Griffith (R-VA) cited it as a driving force behind the proceedings. The risks of private data sales were highlighted, urging increased transparency and efficacy for users, with Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) suggesting the creation of federal privacy laws to regulate personal data sales. Sherman's testimony addressed the abuses uncovered by Sanford's research, advocating for measures including restrictions on data sale to foreign governments, bans on health, location, and child data sale, and prevention of data brokers skirting laws through inference-based methods. Read the story and see the testimony. 

Duke Reporter’s Lab: Vast gaps in fact-checking across the U.S. allow politicians to elude scrutiny


Image of U.S. states from Duke Reporter's Lab local fact checking.
The report analyzed all 50 states

Duke Reporter's Lab has released its latest findings in its continued pursuit to highlight fact-checking efforts in the U.S. 

"From Fact Deserts to Fact Streams: Expanding State and Local Fact-Checking in the U.S." authored by Mark Stencel and Erica Ryan from the Reporters' Lab (part of Sanford) revealed that there are significant gaps in fact-checking across the United States, often allowing politicians to avoid scrutiny. The report analyzed the fact-checking efforts in all 50 states and found that many of them have no consistent fact-checking presence, and only a small percentage of state-level news organizations have dedicated fact-checking operations. This lack of fact-checking can be exploited by politicians who make false or misleading claims without fear of being held accountable. Read the report. 


Two men interviewing PBS
William Brangham (PBS) interviews Justin Sherman on PBS NewsHour

The Sanford Cyber Policy Program's data broker report, authored by Joanne Kim, has garnered significant attention, being cited by 60 media outlets and leading to a nationally aired interview on PBS Newshour featuring

Woman smiling in front of brick wall.
Joanne Kim, author of the data brokers report

Justin Sherman, a senior fellow at Sanford overseeing the data brokerage research project. The report highlights the lack of transparency and risks in the data broker industry concerning the sale and exchange of sensitive mental health data of Americans.

It reveals that some data brokers are openly marketing individuals' mental health data with limited customer vetting and data use controls. The report argues for the need of comprehensive federal privacy regulations or expanded HIPAA protections alongside bans on the sale of mental health data. The project's goal is to provide accessible research on technology policy issues, with the report serving as a reminder of the importance of actionable research. See the coverage here. 


Pictures of Phil Napoli and Robyn Caplan
Phil Napoli & Robyn Caplan

Sanford professors Phil Napoli and Robyn Caplan discussed bills that have been proposed in Congress to ban the Chinese-based social media app TikTok.

The bills were introduced as necessary to protect data privacy and security from foreign intrusion but have raised heated questions.

Caplan believes TikTok ban efforts have seemingly had more to do with geopolitical tensions than actual privacy concerns, and neither professor sees the bans as being easily enforceable or effective.

They do, however, note the bipartisanship support and a need for Americans to be more aware of the data they’re giving away when using their phones. Still, an outright ban of one app could, as Caplan says, be a slippery slope to others, including software citizens use to communicate with geographically distant loved ones. In a word, the issue is highly delicate.

And yet, even as the federal government debates a total U.S. ban, state governments have already started banning it for government employees. Sanford’s Ken Rogerson spoke to Bob Sullivan on his Debugger podcast about the reasons that states are concerned. See the media briefing here. 


Student Voices give Sanford undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to share their perspectives on all areas of public policy. These recent voices focused on the need for data privacy, particularly for vulnerable populations. 


Student Voice: Alexandra Ahdoot

"I hope that my peers and I carry the lessons we learned with us moving forward, and inspire others to join us in this good fight against not only antisemitism and Islamophobia, but all forms of hate."

- Alexandra Ahdoot, Sanford Student

Combating Hate and Finding Hope

Student Voice: Niso Nahmiyas

"Though I have always felt deeply interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as the broader Israeli-Arab conflict and global Jewish-Muslim relations, this year it all feels a bit closer to home. That’s because in the fall I spent the semester abroad living and studying in Jerusalem, where I was witness to the quotidian friction of life there, and came to know some of the forms of hatred which are fanning the flames of these recent episodes of violence."

- Niso Nahmiyas, Sanford Student

Combating Hate in the Digital Age