Students Surveilled By School Phone Apps

What could be more innocent than a clever app designed for your phone by your school or university? Some of them deliver points to students by seeing when they come to class; seems reasonable. Right?

When Syracuse University freshmen walk into professor Jeff Rubin’s Introduction to Information Technologies class, seven small Bluetooth beacons hidden around the Grant Auditorium lecture hall connect with an app on their smartphones and boost their “attendance points.”

And when they skip class? The SpotterEDU app sees that, too, logging their absence into a campus database that tracks them over time and can sink their grade. It also alerts Rubin, who later contacts students to ask where they’ve been. His 340-person lecture has never been so full.

Short-range phone sensors and campuswide WiFi networks are empowering colleges across the United States to track hundreds of thousands of students more precisely than ever before. Dozens of schools now use such technology to monitor students’ academic performance, analyze their conduct or assess their mental health.

(Via Washington Post)

What if you don't want to be surveilled by your own computer, which is what cell phone is these days?

First, some context: one app, SpotterEDU–which purportedly has been implemented in around 40 U.S. universities–pings camouflaged Bluetooth tracking beacons installed in classrooms. When contacted by Gizmodo, SpotterEDU founder Rick Carter insisted that Spotter only looks for one specific classroom beacon during the student’s scheduled class time, only to log attendance and that the company doesn’t see data associated with students’ anonymised IDs. But we’ll have to trust him on that because SpotterEDU’s over-4,000-word privacy policy gives it wide leeway to go in a different direction.

(Via Gizmodo.)

In his 2008 novel Little Brother, Cory Doctorow addresses the subject of school-installed software that surveils students - see the article for SchoolBooks. And don't miss his ideas on gait-cams, which can help schools keep tabs even on non-students, or students who have wised up and hacked their own computers to out-fox school administrators.

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