OPINION | Students should be proactive about data privacy

Katherine Dawson, Contributing Columnist

(Hallie Goldthorpe)

One of the most overlooked aspects of social media is its privacy policy and terms and conditions. When signing up for a new account — whether on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram or FaceBook — who truly reads through all the presented privacy terms that we press ‘agree’ to? 

Although many people hardly read the terms and conditions, by agreeing, we allow these companies to access many forms of our personal information. It is surely no coincidence that we continuously scroll through advertisements that seem oddly catered toward our personal likings and interests. 

But why is this ultimately concerning? How might biased sources present us with targeted information? And how does this type of information get in the way of our access to useful information? In this day in age, having access to knowledge is power. Therefore, knowing exactly what information is being presented to you, and why, gives you the power to accurately assess the quality of the resources at your disposal.    

The issue of curated posts is increasingly important to remember as midterm elections approach. Social media companies can easily retrieve your information and indulge you with discourse aligned with a very specific political opinion. Therefore, users often receive limited access to the whole spectrum of political conversation.   

Amy Gajda, a law professor at Tulane University, said that privacy contracts “are very difficult to understand, and they are written in a way that makes it very difficult to understand.” Simply put, she said “the reason why I don’t [use social media] is because of privacy concerns.”

There are several habits you can adopt in order to prohibit companies from harvesting your personal information. Tulane graduate student, Brendan Chase, has studied the privacy policies of social media and said, “You can get a proxy server… or a VPN as well,” either way, “you can essentially hide yourself.” 

Gajda also said, “any time there is the ability to opt-out of certain cookies, [you should] always do that.”  

Being mindful while using social media is key to understanding different perspectives on current political discourse. Sticking to a direct news source rather than social media platforms made to nurse short attention spans makes it a stunning task to “really hear another side’s argument … and consider different points,” said Chase.Internet data privacy is not something to consider causally. Tulane students should be aware of meticulous social media data collection, especially in times of political change. Learn how to stay well-informed about the news you may receive and stay adamant about shaping your own political opinions through reliable sources.

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