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CCPA and University Surveillance Apps

It’s the turn of a new decade and a new privacy law has gone into effect — the California Consumer Privacy Act or CCPA. A quick check with some of my fellow privacy pros on how many consumer information requests received at the end of the day on Jan. 1, puts retail at higher numbers than service-oriented companies. The ramp up, stress and testing efforts of Privacy Offices are paying off now that reality is here.

Universities using apps to track students

A disturbing story from the Washington Post is about college campuses tracking their students with a mobile app in the pursuit of better attendance, mental health, grades and student athlete eligibility. The article cites many Division 1 universities, plus smaller schools, across the country, using the technology.

A host of questions come to mind, including:
• was a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) conducted by every institution?
• what notice was given to the student(s) or parent(s) – whose phone is it anyway?
• what are the trade-offs?
    o what if the student doesn’t have a smart phone?
    o what if a student doesn’t use the app?
    o will the data be used for profiling?
• what is the expense or liability associated with the use of a personal device for the university’s benefit or at their insistence?

Who’s benefiting from this?

This strikes me as an impulsive, capitalistic initiative, not well thought through as to the freedoms and privacy of young adults. Universities seemingly are shifting responsibilities to the students and will use the data to say he or she didn’t show up in class, or only spent 15 minutes in the library, or ate at the snack bar and not at the food commons. There will be the occasional, good result from analyzing the data, but overwhelmingly millions of adults will be surveilled for the alleged mission of supporting their higher education experience. The article even reveals a discussion on whether to use the term “tracking” or “monitoring” when describing the app. One app company, SpotterEDU, has already recorded 1.5 million student check-ins, as they call it.

Clawing back privacy

As in consumer privacy, advances in technology and too-good-to-be-true marketing solutions, has jump-started a new surveillance state for students. As in CCPA attempting to claw back the privacy rights of California consumers about their data, students are going to have to fight to attend universities of their choice without “checking in” their movements and whereabouts. You can find the article here: