Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: tracking

Quantifying Emotions

An example on privacy I found interesting was that colleges use tracking pixels embedded within their emails to gauge the interest of potential students in their university. Also that the pixels score each student depending on how quickly they open the email all the while doing this without asking for permission. I see this as extremely troubling and unfair for students. This is troubling because universities are choosing to quantify an emotion. Interest comes and goes in waves. One month you may be dead set on one college then comes a long a sudden change of heart and you’re devoted to another school. What happens if you want to go to a certain college but you check the email a week too late? Is the college just going to assume you’re uninterested based on your emotions towards the school months prior? I think it’s troubling that universities are doing this. It is also unfair. Oftentimes, seniors in highschool would rather be doing something else instead of checking their emails. For highschool seniors in particular, they are swamped with college emails from the get-go of the school year. Universities should abandon this tracking pixel data and instead utilize data from online surveys where students who are actually interested in the school go in and insert their information.

Privacy VS. Security

For many years, the debate about encryption and hiding messages has come down to one trade off: personal privacy vs. communal security. In his article “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives,” Micheal Morris takes a strong stance on this debate. His argument pertaining explicitly to universities, he claims that if universities could prevent tragedies if they looked into student’s data more. He believes that a technique called “Data Mining” could be used to prevent events like stalkings, suicides, and mass shootings on campuses.

Morris begins his article with an analogy to a school shooter and crystal ball. He portrays a vivid image of a student holding a glock and then states “If only there had been a way to look into a crystal ball and see that this horrific confrontation was about to occur, it could have been prevented.” This sets up his main argument that schools could prevent serious tragedies if they only had a closer look into the lives of their students. Morris then explains that this “crystal ball” is, in a way possible through data mining. Data mining would involve a similar process to, as Morris explained, credit card tracking. When a credit card company sees that you have an irregular pattern of spending, they will shut off your card because of the possibility that it has been stolen. Similarly, certain patterns of behavior online can be indicative to a university of potential real life actions. An online history of looking at automatic weapons might let the university know of a potential shooter threat. Knowledge of a google drive draft of a suicide note might allow the university know of a potential victim of suicide. With the right data, the university may be able to save lives. However, people have begun to value their data privacy so much that they have a problem with universities tracking these sorts of data. Still, Morris argues that it is worthy of losing some privacy. 

I completely agree with Morris’s argument. First, this system wouldn’t even involve a major sacrifice of privacy. It wouldn’t monitor students talking about drinking or parties or anything of that sort. It would only monitor for behaviors that could pose a serious threat to students. Second, I believe that most people fear systems like the one Morris describes not because they value privacy so much but because of how the government’s similar system has not worked out. In the post 9-11 world, the US government has become notorious for non-consensually taking citizens data and doing nothing good with it. People fear that it will be the same with universities. The difference is that a university can do far less to hurt a person than the government, and that the universities will be operating more smaller systems with a much more specific task. The potential for data abuse is much smaller. For those reasons, I believe that universities should be doing whatever they can to prevent these tragedies.

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