Time to protect our personal information

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

June 21, 2007 Ed Cartoon

Google, the internet monolith, is expanding into the university realm with its takeover of Dublin’s Trinity College campus email network.

Trinity College will benefit financially from the move to the Google system, but there are concerns about access to personal information stored on campus email servers.

Are students benefiting from this deal to the same degree as Google or Trinity College?

If the university is able to save money by outsourcing its email servers to Google, it can allocate those funds elsewhere, hiring more faculty or improving services for students.

Since Google has access to resources university servers do not, they could also provide a superior email service. For most students, an email servers reliability is the most important factor.

Privacy, however, is the bottom line; if Google can ensure Trinity College’s private information is secure, outsourcing campus email servers is the right choice.

Google’s reputation regarding privacy is in question. Privacy International recently ranked Google at the bottom of their privacy rankings and described it as hostile to privacy.

It’s important to keep in mind security breaches are not unique to private enterprises. Public institutions, including universities, are no more secure.

Google’s desire to provide similar services to other universities should mean it will work diligently to ensure information is protected. A single lawsuit leveled by students or faculty would damage Google’s reputation and its opportunity to expand further into the educational sphere.

The crux of the issue is personal information, such as that stored in email servers, is inherently different than food services, or any other type of good, when it comes to outsourcing.

Unlike a student deciding to sign-up for a Google email account, Trinity College students do not have a choice in who is handling their personal information.

Students are trusting a third-party rather than the university itself, which raises the question of who is accountable if a security breach occurs.

A private corporation cannot provide the same security assurances to students as their university can; Google does not have the same vested interest in students.

At best, Google has an indirect relationship with students. Ultimately Trinity College should shoulder responsibility for making such a decision on behalf of students.

Although a partnership with Google is financially sound for Trinity College, privacy concerns are too grave to be brushed aside.

Trinity College students should remain vigilant about the security of their personal information and hold their institution accountable if any breaches occur.

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