Tag Archives: Sam Haney

Privacy disappears in the virtual age

Art by Sam Haney

Story by Audrey Boyd

With the rapid growth of eLearning and the continual demands to self-isolate, the use of technology to work from home and communicate with loved ones has seen a major spike within the last few months. On April 9, Android Central reported that Google Classroom users have doubled, reaching 100 million as more schools across the globe close for the remaining year.

FC students and staff have had first-hand experience with this situation since April 2, when Governor Eric Holcomb announced that all Indiana schools will be closed for the rest of the school year. The revelation came merely one day after the first day of FC’s online learning.

Coincidentally, the news broke that Google was being sued for allegedly collecting student biometric data on April 6, only days later.

The lawsuit, filed by two anonymous Illinois students through their father, Clinton Farwell, states, “Google has complete control over the data collection, use, and retention practices of the ‘G Suite for Education’ service, including the biometric data and other personally identifying information collected through the use of the service…” These services include Gmail, Google Classroom, Google Docs, Chromebooks, and many more.

The lawsuit argues that Google uses this control “…not only to secretly and unlawfully monitor and profile children, but to do so without the knowledge or consent of those children’s parents.”

“The data collection would likely violate Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, or BIPA, which regulates facial recognition, fingerprinting and other biometric technologies in the state,” news website CNET states in an article titled “Two children sue Google for allegedly collecting students’ biometric data.” It continues to say, “The practice would also likely run afoul of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, a federal law that requires sites to get parental consent when collecting personal information from users who are under 13 years old.”

Google has faced legal trouble for similar breaches of privacy in the past. A lawsuit filed on February 20 by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas focused on the alleged collection of students’ contacts, voice recordings, search history, location, and passwords. These accusations extend to YouTube as well, another company owned by Google.

It is not uncommon for major companies to take advantage of their consumers. Many advertisers track a user’s activity online to manipulate them into buying their products through targeted advertising. Google’s incognito mode can still keep records of your browsing history and link them to your identity. Facebook has been fined for misuse of facial recognition and selling private user data to outside companies. Amazon admitted to using the Amazon Alexa to record conversations and keep them forever, unless the user manually deletes them– however, even if the audio copy is removed, Amazon says they may still keep a record of Alexa’s response.

In this digital age, the privacy of the public has become virtually nonexistent. We no longer have the right to travel without being tracked, to research without being recorded, to buy without being sold, or to learn without being scanned. Our lives are a never ending film in a world of technology.

There are some options to protect your information. One example is installing a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, which will hide your location by redirecting internet traffic and can encrypt your information from possible interceptors.

However, this means that the VPN now has your information, and it cannot be guaranteed that they will not use it for the same purposes as the others. In 2015, CNET reported, “A group of coders and security researchers has claimed that one of the world’s most popular free VPN services [Hola] is an insecure network that has been on-selling users’ bandwidth and opening up their devices, giving “anybody” easy access,” in an article titled “Adios, Hola: Researchers say it’s time to nix the ‘poorly concealed’ service.” 

The lawsuit claims that Hola is vulnerable enough to still allow third parties to “take over your entire computer, without you even knowing.”

“Furthermore,” says CNET, “[the group] alleges that Hola runs a secondary business, known as Luminati, which on-sells Hola users’ bandwidth for up to $20 per GB.”

Even the most basic means of protection cannot guarantee our safety. 

And, despite this awareness, we still continue to browse. We have accepted these conditions, knowing that we are being violated, but our habits never change. How can they? As first-world nations become entirely consumed by technology, it leaves us with little other choice.

We have a right to our privacy, and the denial of such is unethical. We should not have to fear that their private conversations are being recorded and stored away. We should not have to fear being tracked, scanned, or monitored at any given time.

Laws to protect these rights can be violated. We are no longer in control of ourselves, and we have no power to change it.