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The Big Q

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  •  Snapchat and Internet Privacy

    Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014

     

    At Santa Clara University, “Week 5” sparks a tidal wave of midterm studying stress and a seemingly endless “to-do” list of assignments.  Last week during the chaos, I sat in my library study cubicle and surveyed the concentrating students around me. I noticed a peculiar trend. Instead of typing away on term papers or studying lecture notes, students played on their smartphones, the screens forming a sea of flickering yellow.  One after another, students posed for pictures with coffee mugs and stacked textbooks, giggling at their shameless “selfie” Snapchats. Snap! Snap! Snap!

    Snapchat. It’s photographic documentation at super speed.  Since its launch in 2011,   the application has seen massive success. In fact, users send an estimated 700 million photos and videos via Snapchat per day. The best part? The photos disappear after an allotted amount of time—or so we think.

    Despite its popularity, Snapchat’s privacy issues have slammed national news headlines. Security breach issues first surfaced earlier this year after a hacker website obtained over 4.6 million user names and phone numbers. Two weeks ago, hackers released another overwhelmingly large database of photos, this time accessed through a third-party application. In all cases, users believed that their “snaps” disappeared after opening; however, in our technologically advanced society, hackers managed to make the vanished reappear.

    The issue brings up several ethical questions regarding technology and privacy. First, if we willingly share photos, can we blame others when and if the content leaks?

    In addition, we can examine privacy itself. Is privacy a right or a luxury?

    Finally, what role do technology companies have in protecting our privacy?

  •  Browsing or Cyberstalking?

    Monday, Nov. 11, 2013

    Entries for "Browsing or Cyberstalking" must be received by midnight, Sunday, November 24th, 2013. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates. 

     
    **DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**
     
    Lauren is a junior at a small university. While she finds she fits in at her college, her decision to attend was based on following her high school boyfriend of two years, Dave. After two more years of dating in college, Dave decides he wants to go separate ways, and thinks it best if the two don’t see each other anymore.
     
    Though they have no face-to-face interaction, Lauren maintains her online connections to Dave. She constantly checks on what he is doing and who he is spending time with through his Facebook posts, Instagram photos, and tweets. She often shows up at restaurants or bars he says he is attending, and “accidentally” runs into him, to force real life interaction.
     
    A few weeks later, Lauren is browsing Dave’s Facebook and notices that he is spending a lot of time with a sophomore at their university, Emily. She immediately feels jealous and starts to monitor Emily’s social media pages as well. She even begins comparing herself with Emily to her friends, complaining about how Dave “lowered his standards.”
     
    It’s been several months since Lauren’s break up with Dave, and while they haven’t spent time together in person, she knows the ins and outs of his life. She talks about him so much to her friends, that they’ve started to become sick of it. She’s also making herself miserable because her online monitoring isn’t letting her get over her break-up. One day, one of Lauren and Dave’s mutual friends approaches Dave and tells him Lauren has been checking up on him and his new girlfriend on social media. Dave is surprised and disturbed by the information.
     
    What should Dave do, keeping in mind they are all still students at the same university? Is Lauren’s “online monitoring” equivalent to cyberstalking? What is the line between checking up on your old friends and stalking them? Have you ever personally engaged in cyberstalking or know of someone who has? Do you notice cyberstalking as a trend on college campuses?
     
    Useful Resources:
     
     
     
     
     
    Photo by olalindberg under a Creative Commons license.

     

  •  Emails Exposed

    Monday, Oct. 14, 2013

    The best student comment on "Emails Exposed" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, October 27th, 2013. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates. 

    **DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**
     
     
    Robert is on the baseball team at a small college in Texas. He’s a high profile player on the team, and as a result he has a lot of followers on Twitter and a large network on Facebook. For this reason, the members of the athletic board at his college think it’s necessary to monitor his social media accounts. In Texas, there is no law to prevent schools from requiring individuals to give up their personal social media login and password information, so Robert is forced to hand over his social media account information.
     
    University officials say that the intent of monitoring is to identify potential compliance and behavioral issues early on, enabling athletic departments to educate athletes on how to present themselves online. They regularly check what Robert posts and flag certain postings they have issues with.
     
    One day Robert tweets “Skipping class to break bad #schoolsucks #bettercallsaul #breakingbad.” Since Robert publicly admits to skipping class, school officials flag the post and decide to also start monitoring Robert’s email account without informing him.
     
    Since the school provides an email account as a service to its students and faculty, it reserves the right to search its own system’s stored data. According to the college’s student handbook, administrators may access student email accounts in order to safeguard the system or “to ensure compliance with other University rules.” The policy does not mention whether or not account owners have to be notified that their emails are searched.
     
    When searching Robert’s email account, university officials find several questionable emails between Robert and his tutor. It seems that Robert’s tutor has been sending him all answers to homework assignments and quizzes. As a result of the investigation, Robert is placed on athletic probation and his tutor is fired.
     
     
    Should universities be allowed to monitor student email and social media accounts? If so, under what circumstances?
     
    What crosses the line between campus safety and invasion of privacy?
     
    Are university rules regarding email and social media monitoring too vague? If so, how can these rules be changed for more clarity?
     
    Should Robert have been punished for cheating in class if he did not know his email was being monitored? What about his tutor?
     
     
    Useful Resources:
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Photo by cmm08f available under a Creative Commons license.

     

  •  To Snitch or Not To Snitch?

    Tuesday, Sep. 3, 2013

    The best student comment on "To Snitch or Not To Snitch?" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, September 15th, 2013. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates.

    **DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**
     
    Joseph is a collegiate athlete. He used to play three sports in high school: football, basketball, and track. When he came to college, Joseph decided to row crew in order to stay in peak athletic shape. He had never rowed crew before in his life. While many would think that it is a difficult transition for him “on the field,” or in the boat in this case, he is finding it most difficult to transition to life in a college dorm.
     
    Joseph’s crew schedule is such that he has to wake up earlier than the average college student. He often has to be at practice at 6 am. In order to stay alert and perform to the best of his ability, Joseph sleeps early and doesn’t drink alcohol while crew is in season. While he doesn’t have a problem with students drinking alcohol and being drunk in the dorms, he gets annoyed when they are loud and keep him awake at night.
     
    Joseph’s roommate, Greg, doesn’t take part in collegiate athletics. He enjoys staying up late, drinking alcohol socially, and going to parties. As a result, Greg often leaves the room a mess with the smell of alcohol lingering. Greg also tends to wander into the room at late hours and wake Joseph up. Joseph has talked with Greg about trying to stay clean and keeping it down, especially on Friday nights because crew regattas are early on Saturday mornings.
     
    One Friday night, Greg and a few of the other dorm residents are drinking and being loud in the common areas. Joseph can hear them as he tries to sleep to prepare for the regatta in the morning. He sends Greg a text asking him to keep it down, but thirty minutes later they seem to be making even more noise. Joseph calls campus safety and files a noise complaint. As a result, the dorm quiets down but Greg and his friends are caught drinking in the common area and receive fines and community service.
     
    Should Joseph have reported the incident to campus safety? Is it wrong for Joseph to request his dorm mates respect that he has to wake up early to row crew? Does Greg have a right to be upset at his roommate? Do you find that college students are inconsiderate of their surroundings on campus? Do students often treat dorms as a party scene as opposed to a home? 
     
    Useful Resources:
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Photo by Jason Wun available under a Creative Commons license.
  •  Tyler Clementi Case - What Punishment Is Justifiable?

    Monday, Apr. 2, 2012

     

    The best college student comment on "Tyler Clementi Case - What Punishment Is Justifiable?" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate.  Entries must be received by midnight, April 15.  Finalists are selected by likes, so get your friends to like your comment. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by email in the right hand column) for updates.

    You've probably heard about the case of Tyler Clementi - a freshman at Rutgers University who committed suicide after his roommate, 18-year-old Dharun Ravi, secretly filmed and broadcasted Tyler having a homosexual encounter with another man. Three days later, Tyler committed suicide. Now, convicted of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering, and hindering arrest, Dharun faces 10 years in jail or deportation (Dharun, although living his whole life in the US, is technically native of India).  He will be sentenced in May.

    What punishment do you think fits the crime? How is it fair, and if so, why?  Does it bring justice to Tyler?  Does it serve some larger social purpose such as deterring further crimes?

    Below are some further facts to help assist your decision.

    Sept. 19th 2011: Tyler asked Dharun for the room to himself. Dharun then left the webcam of his computer on while he went over to a friend’s room to watch the live stream. He then posted on Twitter to his 150 followers, “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay”.

    Sept. 21st 2011: Tyler read Dharun’s Twitter post and complained to his resident assistant and two other officials, requesting a room change.

    Sept. 21st 2011: Another attempt was made by Dharun to film his roommate. And having contacted numerous people via text messages (one saying, “Yeah, keep the gays away”), an open iChat session was set up by Dharun accompanied with another Twitter post, this one saying, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it's happening again.” However, Tyler noticed the webcam and unplugged Dharun’s computer to prevent the filming.

     

    Sept. 22nd 2011: Tyler posts his intention to commit suicide and then goes through with the intention.

    Sept. 22nd 2011: Five minutes after Tyler’s post (although Dharun claims he didn’t see Tyler’s post until the next day), Dharun sends two apology emails within 15 minutes of one another. The first expressed his guilt and “good-natured” intentions in filming the first night; the second expressed his lack of bias against homosexuals.

    March 16th 2012: Dharun was found guilty of invasion of privacy, hindering apprehension, witness tampering, and biased intimidation pertaining to the second viewing incident. The jury concluded that Dharun did not act with a purpose to intimidate either Tyler or his guest because of their sexual orientation, but that Tyler reasonably believed that this was the case.

    The sentencing is set for May 21st.

     

    Further Information

    Framework for Ethical Decision Making 

    CBS News Interview with Tyler Clementi's Parents 

    ABC News Interview With Dharun Ravi