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US Colleges Are Trying To Install Location Tracking Apps On Students’ Phones

Some U.S. colleges are now apparently requiring students to install a location tracking app to track attendance. Sean Hollister writes for The Verge: The Kansas City Star reported that at the University of Missouri, new students “won’t be given a choice” of whether to install the SpotterEDU app, which uses Apple’s iBeacons to broadcast a Bluetooth signal that can help the phone figure out whether a student is actually in a room. But a university spokesperson told Campus Reform on Sunday that only athletes are technically required to use the app, and a new statement from the university on Monday not only claims that it’s “completely optional” for students, but that the app’s being piloted with fewer than 2 percent of the student body.

What the reports do agree on: the app uses local Bluetooth signals, not GPS, so it’s probably not going to be very useful to track students outside of school. “No GPS tracking is enabled, meaning the technology cannot locate the students once they leave class,” reads part of the university’s statement. SpotterEDU isn’t just used at the University of Missouri, though — it’s being tested at nearly 40 schools, company founder and former college basketball coach Rick Carter told The Washington Post in December. The Post’s story makes it sound remarkably effective, with one Syracuse professor attesting that classes have never been so full, with more than 90 percent attendance. But that same professor attested that an earlier version of the app did have access to GPS coordinates, if only for a student to proactively share their location with a teacher. The Post reports that Degree Analytics is also being used in an additional 19 schools, but unlike SpotterEDU, it uses Wi-Fi signals instead of Bluetooth.

The New York Times also reported in September of a similar app from a company called FanMaker that provides “loyalty points” to students who stick around to watch college sports games at the stadium instead of skipping out. That app is in use at 40 schools, the Times wrote.


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