Are Remote Classes Diminishing our Privacy?

By Leah Mize

From online classes to online distractions and entertainment, students at The University of Tampa are interacting with media conglomerates on a daily basis. It’s required actually. 

It’s impossible to get around using any online platform in the age of education during COVID-19. Most professors teaching hybrid classes tend to hold at least one full class meeting on Zoom. Zoom’s privacy policy covers a lot, and since so much information is shared over the platform through its meetings, it’s natural for students to have concerns. 

If you choose to not use Zoom and use another platform like Google Hangout, that comes with it’s own issues regarding privacy. Google’s privacy policy is at least, if not more, invasive than Zoom’s privacy policy. 

The reality of the situation is that we have already surrendered, willingly or not, most of our online privacy to corporations like Google and/or Facebook. The court system is extremely behind on issues regarding the internet altogether, let alone an intersection of the Fourth Amendment and the internet. 

We post all our snapshot moments to Instagram, release our burning thoughts and opinions on Twitter, post weekend videos to our Snapchat stories, and watch others around the globe on TikTok. 

There’s really no tangible way to opt out of the data collection practices and policies associated with these platforms. It’s incredibly difficult to use and enjoy the internet without having to agree with the terms and conditions. 

You have to assume that your information, no matter how sensitive or private, is being shared with someone else or another entity. It has to be in the forefront of your mind. Otherwise, nothing would get done. It paints you into a corner, as if that’s the purpose of it. Your individual voice has already been restrained as your actions are speaking for themselves, and that’s likely addressed in the language of the terms and conditions that we all definitely read. 

We have to make this assumption wherever applicable. For example, Instagram is owned by Facebook, so anything that you post to Instagram or any other Facebook-owned entity is being shared with Facebook, regardless of whether you actively have and/or use a Facebook account. 

It may not be a huge sacrifice to make. It may not make everyone feel uncomfortable. There are benefits to sharing information such as location data and advertising preferences. It’s sometimes helpful to have Google auto-fill what we’re trying to find, have Amazon recommend new shows or movies to watch based on what we already like, and have our phones text for us when we can’t do it ourselves. 

“I really don’t care that my data and information is held by most companies,” said Lexus McFarland, a former UT student. “I feel like I’ve grown up just clicking on terms and conditions pages.”

McFarland feels that the same opinion is shared by many of her peers. 

“I feel like my friends have the same thoughts as I do,” said McFarland. “My sisters definitely do. They don’t even realize how much information is collected by these companies, they just think it’s cool that everything they go online for is so personalized for them.”

Each person has so much sensitive information that it’s hard to keep track of it all sometimes, and when that’s combined with how many companies are willing to sell that information to third-party companies for their own personal benefit, it can be hard to find the will to care. It seems like it’s the way things are and there’s no way around it. 

If you’re feeling hopeless about the future of online privacy and securing your information, there’s always actions that can be taken. You can do research to hand over the minimum information possible, sign petitions, call your state and federal representatives to let them know your thoughts, and support applicable internet privacy legislation.

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