University Tracks Students' Movements Using WiFi, But Says It's OK Because It's Not Tracking Students
from the slippery-slope dept
One of the many revelations from the Snowden files was that Canada’s spy agency has been tracking people as they connect to WiFi in different public locations. And if Canada is doing it, you can be pretty sure the NSA and GCHQ are doing the same, since neither is known for being backward in using whatever means it can to snoop on huge numbers of people. Of course, you’d expect spy agencies to be up to these kinds of tricks, and you might also be unsurprised to learn that shops are also tracking you using your WiFi connection. But we might have hoped that universities would have been a little more sensitive to privacy issues than the following news on the Australian ABC News site suggests is the case:
The University of Melbourne has moved to allay privacy concerns amid revelations it is tracking students through their wi-fi usage.
The university said the practice, which looked at where people were moving around campus, helped institutions improve retention rates and the experience of students.
According to the article, the university is using the data for the following reason:
The university is trying to work out where people move across the campus to help with planning the new Metro Rail project, which will run through the middle of the campus.
That’s certainly a reasonable goal, but the university seems blissfully unaware of the privacy dangers of its data gathering. In particular, the fact that it is interested in which campus room students are in at any given time means that it could probably work out the identities of those using a particular WiFi system by correlating the rooms visited with the different courses taken by each student. The university would then have a record of where all its students went during the day, who they met, and for how long. Apparently meaningless location information is actually incredibly revealing.
There’s no suggestion that the university is doing anything like this, or even thinking about doing it. But once advances in technology mean that something is theoretically possible, the pressure to put it into practice can become irresistible, as other students have discovered.