American college students are being tracked across campus every day

Advocates say tracking apps encourage student class attendance, and improve grades. (Photo credit: AlbertHerring/Wikimedia Commons)
Advocates say tracking apps encourage student class attendance, and improve grades. (Photo credit: AlbertHerring/Wikimedia Commons)

If you are an American college student, your class attendance is likely being tracked, because, advocates say, it makes you a better student. 

Yet some student and faculty groups are clamoring for greater oversight of what many see as an emerging “social credit system” that violates their privacy.  

They say that these tracking programs are similar to the government-mandated surveillance program evolving rapidly in China — and that the potential for abuse is real.

Improved grades

Many administrators and instructors link class attendance with better grades — and they’re using new tracking apps to help incentivize class attendance in college. 

SpotterEDU and similar apps use Bluetooth and wi-fi technology to monitor students’ presence or absence in a classroom.

This in turn produces thousands of other data points per student, per day, all over campus.

Over the last few years, monitoring software has been used for student athletes, who may be on scholarships conditional on attendance, and other restrictions. 

Now, student surveillance is rapidly going campuswide — often without the fully informed consent of students who are automatically “opted in” at their institutions.

These campus monitoring systems correlate student attendance data with their grades and other factors, and then send them suggestions about how they can improve.

Big Brother

Advocates say tracking apps are having a positive impact on campus life, as students change their behavior, and formerly sparsely attended lectures are nearly full.

Yet the benign nature of this service in the United States may be a slippery slope to more profound and widespread tracking and surveillance of the sort that is increasingly common in China.

In 2014, China announced ambitions to track the movements of all its citizens, and dock them “points” for even minor misdeeds such as jaywalking. 

Although this ambitious system is still in development, Chinese government agencies today maintain a wide variety of databases about citizens and businesses.

This includes China’s Supreme People’s Court, which has created “blacklists” of people and businesses who have not complied with court rulings, and subsequently risk losing privileges, such as the ability to purchase high-speed train passes.

Sources: Washington Post (article, op-ed), Wired Magazine

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