The ExpressVPN Future of Privacy Scholarship

2019 Scholarship Winner

2019 express vpn scholarship winner
Seth Connell
Regent University, Virginia, U.S.
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Topic:

Technology companies can self-regulate to provide optimal privacy to internet users. The free market will choose the winners to be those companies that best protect their users, without the need for government interference. Do you agree or disagree?

Over the past several years, many people have become concerned over the amount of money and influence that big technology companies have in our society. The worry about market monopoly in general has been around for many decades, and technology companies like Facebook, Google, etc. are the latest targets of concern. Critics claim that these companies have too much control over data flow in our society, and this argument certainly has some merit. The question is how we as a society will respond. I contend that the answer to these perceived issues is not more government control, but rather less, and an emphasis on consumer choice instead of coercion.

One of the major shortfalls of attempting to protect online privacy through legislation is that large corporations have a special advantage in their ability to lobby for or against certain policies. Whereas consumers are a widespread and invisible entity, these tech companies are highly concentrated and have a large amount of money and crafty lawyers. When Congress or the FCC announces that new regulations are being considered, it is fairly easy for these companies to send their lobbyists and lawyers on the company’s behalf, and to advocate for regulations that will actually benefit those companies at the expense of smaller competitors.

Indeed, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even penned an op-ed in the Washington Post asking that Congress enact regulations in four areas of technology. One need not think too long to realize how this could be a ploy, like a young child asking his parents to set certain limits on his own behavior. When a large corporation asks the government to regulate its own industry, one may reasonably suspect the company may have plans to use these new regulations to its advantage.

If new regulations are enacted, odds are it would involve mandates and legal hurdles on technology companies that existing ones could navigate, but new startups could not. A similar issue has been happening in the medical field for many years now. Most U.S. states have “Certificate of Public Need” laws on the books, which require prospective medical providers to submit to the state why they think there is truly a need for their service. This burden does not affect existing entities like hospitals, who gain large swaths of control over medical services. Hospitals can and do preemptively shut out potential new competitors because of these regulations, with the result effectively being government-enforced monopoly.

Something similar could happen in the tech industry as well. New laws and regulations may be so burdensome that only the biggest existing actors can afford compliance, leaving consumers with little choice but to use these companies. Big tech may even have sway in the decision-making process for new company approvals, as hospitals often do now. If existing companies gain such a foothold, it will only further increase these companies’ control over our personal data, and limit alternative options for consumers.

I believe that we as a society must generally resist the urge to demand government coercion to solve perceived issues. There is certainly a valid case to be made that some contemporary technology companies have far too much access to our data. However, the market is already providing solutions without the need for new regulations on the technology industry.

Washington Post Technology Columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler recently wrote a story where he stated that the Google Chrome browser effectively amounts to surveillance software. He noticed hundreds of tracker cookies that are then used for highly targeted advertisements. As he aptly wrote, “having the world’s biggest advertising company make the most popular Web browser was about as smart as letting kids run a candy shop.”

However, we are not sentenced to a Chrome prison. Mozilla Firefox offers a thorough set of privacy protections in its browser, and only allows cookies that are absolutely necessary for the website’s functionality. Firefox’s default position is to protect one’s data rather than take it and use it for advertisements. Other browsers, such as Brave, also integrate privacy protections into their platform for users.

The choice of internet browsers is just one example of what consumers can do in a truly free technology market. Individuals are able to start their own software companies that solve these issues regarding data protection. As technology continues to become a more integral part of our lives, there will be new obstacles that we face as a society. To overcome these issues, we need more choice, not less. We are best suited to confront these issues when entrepreneurs are free to invent and share their creativity on the open market. The answer to these important issues regarding our data will not come from the hands of bureaucrats, but from the hearts and minds of diligent and hard-working entrepreneurs.

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Read more about the winner in our interview.


Runners-up

Five students also won a one-year ExpressVPN subscription. They are:

Isabella Grundseth, Mountainside High School, Oregon, U.S.

Calvin Kuo, University of Virginia, U.S.

David Slottved, University of Oxford, UK

Elijah Smith, University of Pittsburgh, U.S.

Jared Stancombe, Indiana University, U.S.

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Introduction

The ExpressVPN Future of Privacy Scholarship was created to raise awareness of internet privacy and security.

The internet is transforming our education system. The technologies used by schools across the world are not fully secure or private, and schools themselves have implemented their own surveillance systems to track what their students do online.

As internet-ready devices proliferate in classrooms worldwide, so do threats to the privacy of the individuals who use them. Awareness of online security and an understanding of fundamental privacy rights are more important than ever.

How to enter

The 2019 scholarship competition has ended. Please check back in January for the 2020 essay topic!

Why you should enter

  • You could win cash or a year’s worth of free VPN service.
  • The winner will be featured on multiple communications platforms. This is a great résumé-builder for a career in journalism, law, computer science, or any relevant field of study.
  • This is an opportunity to become a leading voice in the growing debate over encryption, digital rights, internet privacy, and the fight against censorship.

Awards and selection process

Scholarship award amount

The winner of the 2019 scholarship received a $5,000 cash prize.

ExpressVPN also selected five runners-up, who received a 12-month VPN subscription.

Selection process

The winning essay shall be determined using the following criteria:

  • Level of creativity, originality, and detail of the submission
  • Student’s ability to formulate an opinion
  • Clear and articulate writing

Past winners

2018
2017
2016
Winner
Winner
Savannah Sorenson
Empire High School, Tucson, Arizona
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Topic:

If you had the combined powers of all the world’s leaders, what would be your 10-year plan to ensure the next generation has the right to privacy?

All of the world’s leaders from a total of 195 countries arrived today in London, England, to sign what has now become known as the Carson treaty. For years countries have battled against threats to cybersecurity. Government servers are regularly hacked by malicious individuals seeking personal gain. Since the 1990s, humanity has been forced to wonder if their data was being stored on a secure, encrypted server. Citizens from around the world have been calling on their representatives for years, and today those calls are being answered. Every country in the world has agreed to uphold and fund a 10-year plan for increased cybersecurity.

The plan involves using artificial intelligence (AI) that was first developed nearly a decade ago. AI technology can attack data breaches and other cybersecurity threats at exponential rates that can’t be matched by humans. Beginning next month, individuals, companies, and governments will have their own cybersecurity assistant to protect them on all digital platforms.

The project, nicknamed Carson, will receive cybersecurity knowledge from around the world and will monitor and search for patterns of fraudulent behavior in programs. Carson will look for data breaches and offer solutions to those it is unable to solve on its own. Carson is currently being developed by the most prestigious engineers in the world. Carson will use an extremely strong 256-bit AES encryption. Hungarian representative Pista Magner said that “we will not take risks with Carson’s own security.” Developers applying to work on Carson will also need to have substantial background checks. Eventually, however, Carson will learn to protect itself.

The Carson will be free to download, as this momentous day celebrates the coming together as a global and digital world. Both the rich and the poor deserve the data protection this program will offer. More users will also result in a wider range of resources to search for data breach trends, thus improving Carson’s overall function. With the acceptance of this 10-year plan, the entire Earth has come together to defeat a common enemy. By signing the agreement to be a part of Project Carson, every country in the world has declared war on cybersecurity threats.

Hackers, phishers, and malware designers beware!

Published Mar 8, 2045

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2017 Scholarship Winner

Topic:

It’s 2027 and government surveillance on citizens’ internet activities is legal, in force, and widespread. Governments worldwide are watching everything you’re doing. What happens to art, culture, innovation, scientific research, freedom of expression, etc.?

She enters the Library of Congress, heart pounding, palms sweaty, carrying nothing with her but today’s paper and her life’s work pressed carefully between the pages of the classifieds. She passes an old man reading the same paper she has clutched in her hands, today’s date sprawled across the front page; March 18th, 2027. It’s a momentous day; she hopes someday history remembers it.

It has been eight years since the government gave itself full freedom to monitor the digital activities of every citizen, including everything from your exact GPS location, to where you bought your morning coffee. She can’t even check out a book here without it being tracked. So instead she had spent her days in the medical library with meticulous hand-written notes and every book she could find about cancer, each of them back on their shelves by nightfall. She had carried on this tedious work with the maddening knowledge that the information she sought was never more than a few clicks away.

Citizen’s data had been used, among other things, for voter redistricting, and their democratic republic had covertly transformed into a corrupt authoritarian entity. Anything that did not help the bottom line of the corporations that now held the government’s purse strings was prohibited. The simple, cost-effective cure she had discovered instead of lengthy, expensive treatments would find her in much the same predicament as Gallileo, Lavoisier, Oldenburg, and the countless others before her who had challenged the world in the name of science.

But unlike history, she is not a lone scholar, but part of a vast underground network of doctors, researchers and scientists, secretly spreading information. They have been careful to leave behind no digital foot prints, nothing but an obsolete physical paper trail no one would think to follow.

She turns down the 7th row and searches the 4th shelf, because just like any rebellion, they thrived on hope, and symbols held a certain power. She pulls down volume 17, coated in dust (it’s tax code and carries little threat of ever being read on purpose), opens to page 76 and leaves a dozen or so pages of hope to be spread to millions.

As she leaves, she passes the old man with the newspaper, and he does not make eye contact, but gives a nearly imperceptible nod of his head which she does not outwardly acknowledge.

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2016 Scholarship Winner

Topic: We Own the Future

Picture yourself in 2050. How will the evolution of the Internet affect our social structure and/or the authority governments have over citizens?

As I step outside for the first time in days, my eyes struggle to adjust to the glare. Activated by the sunlight, the GPS in my contacts orients itself and points me in the direction of SeCUREity’s Madison headquarters. Thanks to the incessant growth of technology and the Internet, much of a middle-class urban resident’s daily life occurs online. It’s 2050 now, and I’m on my way to an in-person meeting that could shape the next few years of my life.

2045 was the year everything changed. For decades, scientists had been relentlessly working towards more interactive and collaborative technologies. Although they’d been struggling since the mid-2030s, June 13th, 2045 marked a breakthrough. A leading technology company, Eyeful, Inc., released their incredible “WorldView” Internet-enabled contact lenses. These were created to project the online world into the air before a user, enabling them to navigate through the resulting holograph using their hands. Unfortunately, for the contacts to work, users had to temporarily upload their minds’ content to the Internet, with the optic nerve as the lenses’ link to their brain. But because the technology had not advanced enough to support a complete upload, users would have to sync and take down their brain content every day. The necessity of this coming and going, along with the inadequacy of the existing security made established protection for the digital brains impossible, leaving them vulnerable to private agencies and individuals trying to reap information. Nevertheless, school and work could now be easily attended online and at home. With so much ease and relative convenience, contact usage quickly encompassed almost everyone’s lives.

But it didn’t take long for the government to realize that the contacts posed a huge security risk. Masquerading as a reasonable effort to safeguard citizens everywhere, the Digital Brain Activity Protection Act was passed on September 6th, 2045. Under this act, WorldView contact users would be required to install government-issued firewalls around their digital brains. Although these firewalls worked well to keep prying companies and criminals at bay, they were hiding something--a filter heavily censoring a variety of sites deemed “suspicious” by the government. This news emerged after 6 weeks of firewall use, and a public uproar ensued. Most people agreed that the firewalls themselves were reasonable, but undisclosed censorship was reprehensible. As a result, curious citizens were unable to do non-work-related research. Families were unable to connect with children on the other side of the world because the only permitted communication sites weren’t available in some other countries. But no matter how much picketing, protesting, and petitioning occurred, the government refused to back down.

The proceeding uproar has continued for almost 5 years, but an alternative has finally arisen. SeCUREity is a company dedicated to providing Internet privacy, safety, and freedom all in one package. Their protective Internet service acts as a flexible, filtering shield around a user’s brain as they navigate the web, keeping potentially harmful people and information out. Because it travels with the user, SeCUREity allows people to freely explore the Internet without concern for their privacy and safety. It’s easily added as an implant to the WorldView contacts, where it encrypts each piece of data from a user’s brain as it uploads to the Internet. With this technique, SeCUREity provides a convenient opportunity for the government to ease up on restrictions and resume protecting instead of controlling its people. That’s why I set out this morning on my way to obtain SeCUREity’s service with a hope that I, and surely many others, haven’t felt in a long while--that soon, I could be free.

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Contest rules

  1. Essays must be written in English.
  2. Applicants must be currently enrolled in either a high school, undergraduate school, or graduate school located in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa.
  3. There is no age or citizenship requirement.
  4. Essays must be sent via email only, to this address: scholarship@expressvpn.com. To be valid, the application email must include the following information:
    • Your name
    • The name, address, and contact details of your school
    • Your current grade level
  5. One entry per student. Multiple entries per student will be disregarded.
  6. Essays must be submitted online by August 31, 2019, no later than 11:59 p.m., Pacific Standard Time.
  7. The winner will be announced by the end of October 2019. The prize will be awarded by international wire transfer. The winner will be required to provide his/her bank information in order to complete the bank transfer.
  8. The winner must submit a valid ID and proof of enrollment in a high school, undergraduate school, or graduate school located in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa.
  9. Employees of ExpressVPN and their immediate family members are not eligible for this contest.
  10. All entries become the property of ExpressVPN. The contest winner agrees to allow ExpressVPN to publish or print his/her name and essay.
  11. Winners will be solely responsible for any federal, state, or local taxes.
  12. The prize is listed and paid in United States Dollars (USD).
  13. The decision of ExpressVPN in respect of any dispute arising out of this program shall be final.

About ExpressVPN

One of the world’s largest providers of VPN services, ExpressVPN enables users to protect their privacy and security online with just a few clicks. The company’s award-winning apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, routers, and browsers secure user information and identities with best-in-class encryption and leak-proofing.

With 3,000+ servers across 94 countries, ExpressVPN provides a fast connection and uncensored access to sites and services across the globe. The company is based in the British Virgin Islands and has been operating since 2009.

A vocal advocate for internet freedom and privacy, ExpressVPN is a proud financial supporter of non-profit organizations fighting to protect digital rights, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Internet Defense League, OpenMedia, and others.

For more information, visit: https://www.expressvpn.in/what-is-vpn


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