Editorial: EDITORIAL: MU’s attendance policies are invading student privacy rights

MU’s use of a new location tracking app is bad for student privacy rights and calls into question the validity of mandatory attendance altogether.

Privacy concerns are a dime a dozen in the modern world. From concerns over Amazon’s Alexa devices to the phone in your pocket, it’s hard to feel alone. However, you should be able to feel safe from such technological overreach in the classroom. But Big Brother is watching there, too.

This semester, MU is rolling out a pilot program, requiring students in select courses to use the SpotterEDU app to check attendance or use an alternative method approved by the instructor. The app is able to tell when a student is in class by connecting to Bluetooth sensors within the classroom.

An MU statement released in January suggests the app only tracks location through these Bluetooth beacons, but the app’s privacy policy tells a different story.

The policy states: “We may collect specific location information from your device if you have opted-in to such collection through our mobile application(s).” Later in the section, it elaborates, stating: “we may still be able to collect or infer your approximate location through other information we collect, such as IP address. In addition, some mobile service providers may also provide us or our third-party service providers with information regarding the physical location of the device used to access the Services.”

To decode the legalese, the app has access to your location during class time through your IP address. They also may be able to get more precise location data from your mobile data provider. The app may not be collecting data from your GPS, but it might as well be.

When you open the app, it will first ask you to enable location services. The app states that it “will not mark you as present if this is not allowed.” Essentially, you have no choice but to opt-in.

MU officials aren’t being fully honest. The app uses in-class Bluetooth sensors, sure, but it can also collect precise location data from students.

Your right to an education shouldn’t come at the cost of your right to privacy.

MU officials will be quick to point out that the service is optional. You can, alternatively, elect to sign in on old-fashioned pen and paper. But wasting class time signing in a few hundred people doesn’t seem like a good alternative.

An obvious alternative that doesn’t draw “Black Mirror” privacy concerns is iClicker polling, the system many MU students are already familiar with. Professors can track participation through in-class polling, rather than rely on location tracking.

All this begs the question, though: do we need to be tracking attendance at all?

Student success has an undeniable correlation with attendance, but by mandating attendance, adult students aren’t able to take responsibility for themselves. College is intended to take the training wheels off and prepare students for adulthood by treating them like adults, not adolescents.

Allocating a certain percentage of points to attendance also dilutes grading. A student may ace every test, but never show up. There’s no reason they should have points taken off just because they didn’t follow the traditional path to success.

Everyone learns differently. Lectures provide auditory learners a good way to learn material, but others are left out. Visual, reading and writing and kinesthetic learners may not benefit much from a traditional lecture. It should be their choice to attend.

There is also the economic aspect to consider.

The estimated annual tuition for an out-of-state MU student is $28,774. For an in-state student, it’s $12,094. In-state or out-of-state, you’re likely paying a pretty penny to study at MU.

At the end of the day, students are customers. We pay to be here and it should be up to us to get the most out of that money. If you pay for a season pass to Six Flags and only go once, you’re the one on the losing end.

A broad debate needs to happen on the basis of student attendance. MU must recognize that its students are adults and need to be treated as such. We know what’s best for ourselves and we don’t need an app to tell us how to learn or track our location.

The SpotterEDU app is a poor solution to a non-existent problem. Many students choose not to attend classes and that should be their right.

Encroaching on personal liberties to mandate attendance is wrong and MU must consider changing course. We have the right to our privacy and the right to an education. We can’t be expected to sacrifice one for the other.

Edited by Ben Scott | bscott@themaneater.com

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