Student orgs consider safety, privacy on digital platforms

Privacy may be sacrificed for the sake of convenience when using digital platforms for meetings. 

As student organizations look to host events and meetings while following social distancing guidelines, some turn to video platforms for convenience. But attorney Jack Pringle said there is a tension between convenience and security.

"By getting too much of one, you may be giving on the other," the USC law alumnus said.

Pringle, now working at Adams and Reese in Columbia, said his primary practice is in privacy, cybersecurity and data management.

He said changing the default settings may be a little bit inconvenient, but it makes people pause to think about the privacy of the meeting.

On April 22, Zoom announced new security updates to its platform.

Organizations should look to limit the control over functions like waiting rooms and share screens to the host, Pringle said.

Since classes transitioned online in the spring, Jacob Hoffman, president of Carolina Productions, said Carolina Productions and Gamecock Entertainment have been working on hosting events for students digitally.

Carolina Productions is using its Garnet Gate page to host some of its events and concerts for students.

"We do that so only students can access them," Hoffman said.

Before the student gets the link to the event, they must log into Garnet Gate with their USC account.

Privacy on digital platforms is also being considered by Student Government.

Student Government recently purchased a premium Zoom account that student organizations will be able to use for the 2020-2021 year.

Student Body Treasurer Caden Askew said he felt it was Student Government's responsibility to find free meeting space for students.

These meetings will be encrypted and password-protected, have mandatory waiting rooms and be recorded.

"That was something that was important to me, is making sure that we had every possible security feature that Zoom offers equipped and ready to go," Askew said. 

Student Government will also be able to look at all the IP addresses of participants in the meeting from its admin account.

"Knowing that you have the IP addresses might prevent some bad conduct, and it might incentivize some people not to behave badly, but honestly, I'm not sure unless you're a very, very, very practiced internet sleuth that you'll be able to use that information for any good," Pringle said.

Every meeting will be recorded, stored and managed by Student Government. The student org and the admin account will be the only people able to view the recorded meetings. After 30 days, the recordings will be deleted.

Jerome Scott, adviser for Student Government, said students will know that the meeting is recorded. 

"I think it is the bare minimum that should be done, really," Scott said. "Like 'Hey this meeting is being recorded. Are you sure you want to have your event on this platform?'"

Askew said that if a situation similar to the AAAS Zoombombing happened again, the recordings would provide context to the situation.

Student organizations can have upwards of 300 people participating in a meeting at a time, and organizations will have their own login information.

"We'll basically just give student organizations a license, one of our 10 licenses that we have, and then they can log in with their own information, their own password, send out their own meeting invites from their email to their network," Askew said.

If there is a greater demand than nine organizations, Student Government can buy another license for an additional $20 per month.

"We have no idea what the demand looks like," Askew said. "We're also committed to continuing to provide the service if there is a monumental demand."

The Zoom account costs $2,000 for the entire year. This was paid for with leftover funds that were not used from the previous year's budget.

Only one meeting can be scheduled at a time, so sign-ups are on a first-come, first-served basis. Student orgs can fill out a form on Garnet Gate on Student Government's page.

"There's a lot of reasons to use these platforms and a lot of benefits," Pringle said. "But as I always say, you know, with the benefits, just consider the risks and a little bit of effort on the front end, to think about what the potential risks are and how to manage them is going to be a lot more useful."

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