Colleges are turning students’ phones into surveillance machines, tracking the locations of hundreds of thousands

Drew Harrell:

When Syracuse University freshmen walk into professor Jeff Rubin’s Introduction to Information Technologies class, seven small Bluetooth beacons hidden around the Grant Auditorium lecture hall connect with an app on their smartphones and boost their ‘‘attendance points.’’

And when they skip class? The SpotterEDU app sees that, too, logging their absence into a campus database that tracks them over time and can sink their grade. It also alerts Rubin, who later contacts students to ask where they’ve been. His 340-person lecture has never been so full.

‘‘They want those points,’’ he said. ‘‘They know I’m watching and acting on it. So, behaviorally, they change.’’