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Privacy changes rattle cages

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For Drake University students, Google and Facebook’s recent privacy policy changes generate a range of feelings from indifference to anger.

“I think it’s a convenience to get ads tailored to you, but it’s kind of a double-edged sword,” said sophomore music major Eric Ferring. “It’s a debate between convenience and constitutionality.”

Google recently announced a privacy policy that would make it easier to cross-reference users’ activity data when people use more than one of its services. The new policy will become effective Thursday.

The new Facebook profile, Timeline, has also created privacy concerns. Facebook’s new advertising format explains that users will not be allowed to opt out of sharing information from certain media features like music and news that are linked to the site.

Although the policies upset some, Facebook and Google users do not have much choice if they want to use the websites.

“Anyone who signs up for Google’s services probably signs early on, without even thinking (of) it, a terms-of-use agreement,” said Mark Kende, a law professor and director of Drake’s Constitutional Law Center.

Sophomore Nicole Westenberger is skeptical of the sites’ data collection.

“If advertisers want some information, they can get it,” Westenberger said. “That just seems a little sketchy to me.”

Like many students, Westernberger keeps her privacy settings under control.

“All my privacy settings are pretty strict,” Westenberger said. “I don’t want my stuff all over Facebook.”

Ferring keeps his Facebook profile private, too. While he enjoys the ads targeted from Facebook’s data gathering, Ferring said that he believes companies should draw a line with how much they share.

“I still don’t think they should document every activity online,” Ferring said.

Sophomore elementary education major Grace Manz is outraged by Facebook’s advertising privacy policy.

“I think it’s beyond insane,” Manz said. “I’ve stopped ‘liking’ things on Facebook, and half of what I do is delete the things that cause Facebook to gain weird information about me.

“I know I consented to their policy terms, but I don’t think I understood the implications of that. I don’t think most people do,” Manz added.

But not all students are suspicious of Google and Facebook’s intentions with user information.

“I don’t think it’s anything new,” said sophomore Theodore Bartemes. “I read an article yesterday that said Target does the same thing. They track what people buy and send them relevant coupons.”

Bartemes, a computer science and music major, said that collecting a user’s information helps a company without harming the user.

“When it comes down to it, Facebook is a corporation,” Bartemes said. “They’ll do what they can to make it a better company and keep it free. I think that’s a good thing.”

Before a person can use many of Google or Facebook’s services, he or she must consent to the terms and conditions listed by the company.

“The experience for most people is that the terms and conditions are so legalistic that they don’t really read it all, they just click ‘accept,’” Kende said. “But when they do that, it’s like they waive their rights.”

Few laws against individual data accumulation exist at this point because privacy issues are relatively new, having come up only in the past few years. Kende explained that general principles and judge-created common laws regarding Internet privacy exist in the United States. This includes statutes against intrusions into certain types of emails.

Previously, lawyers tried applying laws that dealt with older technology like telephones or telegraph to Internet privacy issues.

“They have some laws now that exist,” Kende said. “But with a lot of companies, you just have to accept their terms of use and waive certain privacies.”

Although laws exist, Kende said that the law has yet to catch up with privacy concerns. The future of Internet privacy laws remains uncertain.

“What a lot of companies say is that they’re going to take action on their own,” Kende said. “And if the companies come up with a policy that keeps people happy, there might not be any laws that go on the books.”

While some students worry about how their information is used, other students are unaware of Google and Facebook’s new information accumulation and privacy policies.

“That happens?” asked sophomore music education major Mary Craven. “I’m not sure I’m OK with that.”

However, when asked if she would change her current usage of the sites after learning this information, Craven said nothing would change.

“I don’t really use it enough to matter,” Craven said.

For those concerned about Google and Facebook’s accumulation of behavior profiles, Bartemes repeated a commonly heard solution.

“If you don’t want your information sold to advertising companies, don’t put it out there,” Bartemes said.

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