Students fight for Internet privacy in an age of data collection

When Edward Snowden leaked thousands of classified documents
to The Guardian, he single-handedly reignited the debate over the individual’s
right to privacy in the digital age. Discussions regarding the issue dominated
national media coverage for weeks, continuing into months.

However, the privacy debate isn’t reserved just for the federal government and squabbling politicians. Students, too, are affected by Internet privacy concerns on a daily basis.

By virtue of being connected to the Internet, students are exposed to a variety of forms of data collection from varying sources.

Google monitors searches to generate targeted advertisements. Dating websites are monitored by dozens of advertisers who collect the most specific of details. The U.S. federal government can see an individual’s online presence.

In a survey conducted by The Signal, 100 Georgia State students and faculty were asked how important their electronic privacy is. Answers were contributed on a fixed scale from one to five, with five being the most important.

75 percent of the respondents selected option five, deciding that their electronic privacy is “very important.”

Some students, however, are far more than just worried about their privacy. Some are actively fighting to protect it.

Senior english major Corey Briley believes that his personal information isn’t for sale or for the government to collect.

“My concern for online privacy started when the banking industry went digital,” Briley said. “I wanted to protect my credit card numbers.”

Briley said that, over time, he began to believe that if his credit cards could be compromised online, so could all of his online activity.

To protect his privacy, Briley began using an IP Blocker, a program that scrambles or otherwise conceals the user’s internet protocol address––a numerical representation of the user’s geographic location.

“If there are tools available to prevent my information from being compromised, I’m going to use them to protect myself,” Briley said.

According to a PewResearch report, 86 percent of Internet users have, at some point, made an attempt to conceal their online activity. These attempts have included clearing stored cookies, refusing to provide factual personal information and even masking their IP address.

Though he doesn’t use software to try and conceal his online footprint, Dylan Casbon, a senior international economics and spanish major, also said that his privacy is of critical importance.

“It’s scary to think that anything I’ve ever said could be found and held by someone else or even used against me as blackmail,” Casbon said.

Casbon also said that he doesn’t believe enough is being done to protect individual privacy. He said that there needs to be more serious legislation that places restrictions on the amount and types of information collected by third parties and the government.

While Corey and Dylan are both seriously concerned about the security of their personal information, some students aren’t concerned at all.

Gage Williams, a sophomore biology major, said that the prospect of government Internet surveillance doesn’t concern him.

“I feel like it’s not an issue for me because I don’t have anything to hide. If you do have something to hide, maybe you shouldn’t be on the Internet in the first place,” Williams said.

According to Williams, privacy is far from being one of the biggest issues in the digital age. He says that using an online service and the Internet in general creates an unspoken, invisible contract wherein the user forfeits the right to his or her personal information.

“I can see some concern for third party collections of information, but I think the risk of fraud in that scenario is pretty small,” Williams said.