When I read an article about all we are giving up our privacy, I try to read it with a sense of understanding and nuance. I make my living tracking websites. I know not all tracking is evil. 

But when I read this piece in the Washington Post, my jaw dropped. It’s still on the floor. I’ve read the article several times. And I still cannot come up with a net positive for this technology. 

Schools force or trick students to put apps on their tracking apps on their smartphones. Schools then gather data on where the student is at all times. They do this in the name of better attendance and student success. 

As VCU student writer Tagwa Shammet put it: “Student Success My Ass”. 

It’s just attendance.

Some schools now require students to use an app so that they can check into their classroom. Now, professors can actually know if you show up to those super-duper large lecture classes. 

One professor loved it, stating “his 340-person lecture has never been so full.” 

You know what he didn’t mention? Any improved outcome other than butts in chairs. No improved grades. No improved retention rates. No improved graduation rates.

Only Erin Rose Glass, a digital scholarship librarian, seemed to get it.  “We could be asking harder questions, like: Why are we creating institutions where students don’t want to show up? DING DING DING! Someone discovered the actual problem.

It will improve your health, because data

But wait! What about student well-being. Surely, these apps, which track everywhere a student is, can help a school set up interventions when a student is at risk. What about “Sasha”, the student who didn’t leave her dorm room. So the school sent a counselor her way. 

Sure, because of the app, the school intervened. But there was no mention of an outcome. We still don’t know if Sasha needed the intervention. 

There is no supporting science that indicates that this level of tracking and intervention is leading to any harm reduction.

 What’s the harm? 

We’re being tracked all the time. Given that there could be some positive outcomes, what’s the risk? 

If you’re asking yourself that question, you’re probably a man. 

I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say that no women were involved in the creation of these products. 

Did I mention that this data is disaggregated, personal data? That if you miss class, your professor can see not only where you were, but everywhere you’ve been?

Almost every woman I know has had a professor, TA, or some other school authority come onto them.

So what could possibly go wrong? Just because now that creepy TA knows the path you take to walk home from work at 1am every Tuesday night. Wait. That’s sarcasm. I know what will go wrong. Rape.

Did I mention these tools divide students into various categories, including students of color. What could possibly go wrong? That’s more sarcasm. I know exactly what will go wrong. Schools will over-police when they see communities of color congregating in one place.

And it’s all for sports. 

For all this data, there appears to be no success metrics presented for measuring “student success”. But don’t worry, there is a success metric. 

It’s all about the Benjamins. 

This technology wasn’t invented by a benevolent trying to help students succeed. It was developed by…looks down at her notes…a basketball coach. 

This was never about student success. It’s about making sure schools don’t lose that sweet sweet sportsball money by keeping up a facade of educating student athletes, without any actual commitment to educating student athletes. And if the app developer can make more money by tracking ALL the students, well, so much the better. Maybe we can revoke a few academic scholarships while we’re at it. 

And it’s not even real.

In their terms of use it says “data is not guaranteed to be ‘accurate, complete, correct, adequate, useful, timely, reliable or otherwise.’” 

What the hell are we doing this for, then? 

These apps are being used to take money away from students. Schools will probably use them to remove at-risk students before they have a bad impact on their stats for the college rankings. 

And we’ll continue to reward those who look good in data and cut loose those who don’t.