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Net filtering system offers ability to sell data

Feb. 15, 2001

Invasion of privacy primary concern

of some students


Staff writer

Baylor's Web site filtering system has the capacity to sell student data, but at this point it has only been sold to Baylor.

Baylor began using the N2H2 Network's Bess Filtering System last fall after students and staff complained about exposure to sites categorized as adult and graphic in nature, Tommy Roberson, network security administrator, said.

Sites visited on computers connected to ResNet go through the Bess server, and this system has a database of sites deemed inappropriate. If the sites are on the list, they will be blocked.

The filtering system knows when and how often a site is visited, but it can only trace it back to the machine, not the individual, Roberson said.

'N2H2 generated a report for Baylor that outlined its Web use, and we paid for it,' Roberson said.

Roberson said this report was used to see what the ResNet network is being used for.

N2H2's practice of selling student data is legal because it 'is permitted according to the contract' between Baylor and N2H2, Roberson said.

However, students feel that this is an invasion of privacy.

'That makes me really mad because they are making money off of me, and I didn't give them permission to do that,' Janai Nuckols, a Longview senior, said.

'It is an invasion of privacy, and it's none of their business,' Hayden Schwenk, a San Antonio junior, said.

ResNet's Web page states that 'network activity is 100 percent private' as long as it is used correctly.

This statement leaves room for many questions.

'No, we are not tracking individual's Web activity. Do we have ways to do this? Yes,' Roberson said, adding that it is a 'sensitive issue.'

'If people use the Baylor University Web server, that information is really Baylor's information,' said Basil Thomson, Baylor associate general counsel.

'I don't think there is any privacy issue at all,' Thomson said.

'This information serves two purposes. It allows us to look at log files to make sure the filtering is working,' Allen Goldblat, a spokesperson for N2H2, said. 'Also, if schools need to track information for certain reasons, they can do so,' Goldblat said.

Some students said they do not have a problem with this.

'I can see the good and bad sides of it,' Will Campos, a Waco senior, said.

Campos said that he understands why the information could be useful, but losing the right of privacy could be a bad side.

A Jan. 26 Wall Street Journal article stated that N2H2 began selling monthly reports of student's surfing habits for $15,000 a year to marketers and Web site operators. The article states that this information, called Class Clicks, is aggregated, which means that specific students and schools cannot be identified.

'We cannot trace it to any specific student,' Goldblat said.

However, Class Clicks only uses information from schools that are kindergarten through the 12th grade.

'University students are not included in the studies we do,' Goldblat said.

Roberson said that although he does not see N2H2's action as a violation of privacy, he is always concerned when he hears about web activities being sold.

'It seems like people should get money if their information is being used,' Roberson said.