Data protection and education

Photo courtesy of christiaan colen/flickr

Photo courtesy of christiaan colen/flickr

The Editorial Staff

In a world dominated by the Internet, students are becoming more and more dependent on the web for their day-to-day lives.

Whether it’s surfing the web on Google Chrome, giving their parents an update on Facebook or sending out a tweet, students lives are increasingly online.

With that comes a lot of positive. Students have access to all of the information in the world at all times, students can connect with each other and those outside the community instantly and they can bring their work with them wherever they go if they use services like Google Drive.

With this great power comes drawbacks, yet many students are unaware of some of the practices that companies like Facebook and Google utilize with the data that users create. These internet companies collect an enormous amount of data on their users (if you’re ever curious, go look at your location history on Google Maps), and will sell this data to advertisers to help keep many of their products free.

Google offers free storage on Drive and Photos, for example, but collects data on the people who use these products in order to gain insights into how they behave and what they are interested in.

They could then sell this to a local advertiser who is curious to see what is trending among students aged 18-24, for example. While this practice is outlined in the terms of agreement that every user is asked to accept, many do not read this document as a lot of it is legal jargon.

This editorial board takes issues with Google’s practices of selling the user’s data as a product, but also cautions that users could be doing more to protect themselves if they find it to be troubling.

Students should be more aware of where their data goes when they use services like Google and Facebook, as they are creating a permanent online footprint that contains some intimate information on how they live their lives.

While the company may not be in violation of its “Don’t Be Evil” principle, it is certainly walking a fine line.

For example, the Mountain View-based firm was sued in 2014 for scanning the emails of students that were using its products. This was potentially in violation of the law and the company stopped doing it. It is of course notable that UNCG uses Google for its email server.

Students can protect themselves from unwanted data collection by carefully going through their privacy settings to ensure that Google does not have access to certain bits of information.

There are also add-ons for Google Chrome that students can download to prevent Google from collecting their data.

To go through Google’s own settings to disable certain collection points, students can go to Google Dashboard and pick which bits of data Google can and can’t collect.

It is the position of this editorial board that every student should be aware of the data that is being collected on them and that they are aware of the recourse they can take to prevent certain data from being collected.

For Android mobile users, the upcoming Android Marshmallow update will allow users to granularly set which apps have access to which collection points. This includes sources such as the phone’s camera, location and emails/messages.

To reiterate, this editorial board raises concern at the amount of information that is stored so centrally, and the potential long-term effects this could have on the millions of users who have their data in Google’s databases.

It also believes that students should exercise the control that they have over this data, as unlike the NSA scandal they have control over what is and is not collected.

In an age where so much of students’ lives are online, it is crucial that they are aware of what is going on in the background.

Categories: Editorials, Opinions

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