Opinion Web Exclusive

Students seek balance with online privacy

Francis Emelogu // The Daily Cougar

Francis Emelogu // The Daily Cougar

We live in a digital age. With every Facebook post, Tweet or Instagram upload we leave an electronic footprint that stays after we press the little X at the top right of our windows. Facebook, Twitter and other popular social media platforms have changed the scope of online privacy.

According to a study by Creative Artist Agency’s Intelligence Group, 17 percent of 19 to 24-year-old people share a lot about themselves online in comparison to only 11 percent of those in the 14 to 18-year-old range.

On the other hand, a somewhat conflicting study by the Pew Research Center noted that only nine percent of teenagers who use social media care greatly about third-party access to their information.

Either way, the issue still exists: everyone needs to pay more attention to what they put out there. For college students looking to enter the workforce, there may be consequences for disregarding online privacy.

Aside from prospective employers looking at online profiles, individuals also need to be cautious about online viruses.

Computer science senior Christopher Krivik said that students need to protect their privacy from circulating viruses or vulnerabilities in coding, like the Heartbleed web security bug.

“Approximately half of the encrypted portion of the Internet uses the same algorithm for encryption,” Krivik said.

Krivik said that Heartbleed could be exploited by hackers to get just about any of the information that we publish online.

While the bug has been largely resolved, it goes to show that even our most secure servers might have issues. This makes one wonder what people should be putting out there.

Not all students are naïve about increased accessibility to private information.

“Where you live, your phone numbers, your email addresses … Facebook is allowed to do what it wants with it,” computer science senior Kevin Muppattayil said.

In addition, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein recently drafted a bill that “allows companies to monitor their cyber networks,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Employees using the Internet could be held liable for anything they post online.

Isaac Asimov said, “The advance of civilization is nothing but an exercise in the limiting of privacy.” This idea of an advancing society and its inevitable limitation on privacy has proven itself to be correct in the growing digital world.

What is posted online entangles us in a fabric that inadvertently connects largely subjective “data” about one’s personality, lifestyle and even physical domicile with our digital footprints. Employers, as well as the U.S. government, have access to the various social media platforms that collect this information.

A study conducted by Microsoft found that 70 percent of surveyed HR professionals have rejected a candidate based on their online reputation. It’s clear that we must be smart about what we post online and how we safeguard it.

To counteract this loss of privacy, companies look to create programs to safeguard one’s privacy.

In April 2013, Microsoft launched an online privacy campaign that prompted a spate of apps and add-ons to be developed that would increase web privacy.

For example, Lightbeam, developed by Mozilla, allows users to visualize the relationship between the websites visited and the mesh of third party sites that are active within those pages.

An add-on developed by Abine called DoNotTrackMe helps prevent hundreds of websites from tracking online data. HTTPS Everywhere is a web browser extension that encrypts communications with many of the major websites.

Most people are aware that there are still leaks and vulnerabilities. To try and escape this privacy burden, anonymity has become more popular.

The same study that detailed the differences in teenage and college-age online privacy woes chronicled other, more anonymous platforms that people have been turning to. Here at UH we aren’t oblivious of any of them.

Snapchat, Kik, Whisper and UH Confessions all provide more anonymous methods to vent or express oneself in the digital realm with fewer risks. There have been countless stories of people being fired from their jobs for posts they made on Facebook. There’s another side to the coin too.

Assistant communications professor Arthur Santana does research dealing with the topic of online anonymity and its consequences.

“This generation of young people is living in a time when the ubiquity of cell phone cameras and photo and social media apps have created a new era of citizen paparazzi where everything they do and say can be made public,” Santana said.

“It’s important for people to realize that in every social media interaction, people are doing more than just sharing a little bit about themselves, which may seem inconsequential when it’s dripping out of the sieve, but over time, that drip, drip, drip can add up to a pool of information.”

On the other hand, online privacy tends to cause issues when the anonymity of it all makes people feel uninhibited.

“There can be a true democratizing value in that. The downside, however, is that when their inhibitions are down, people often resort to incivility and even bullying,” Santana said.

Because of this, one questions what the happy medium is and how one can maintain a modicum of privacy whilst retaining their freedom to express.

The happy medium of privacy and freedom of expression is an important issue for question for those who thrive on multiple social media platforms.

“I have a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat. What I post on Instagram or Snapchat, I wouldn’t mind posting on Facebook or Twitter,” biomedical engineering junior Laurel Rawley said.

To that extent, we must do the same. It is beneficial to think twice before posting and to ask ourselves if we would be comfortable if the next Tweet, Facebook post or Instagram photo was published on the front page of the New York Times with our name affixed to it.

While our freedom to vent and express is important, it would be remiss if we did so without strongly considering the implications beyond what seems to be an ephemeral post.

Correction: Kourosh Zakeri is an optometry graduate student, not an optometry graduate.

Editorial cartoon by Francis Emelogu

Opinion columnist Kourosh Zakeri is an optometry graduate student and may be reached at [email protected]

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