Spotter app: A violation of student privacy?

Daniela Navarro

If you’re in a lecture hall of hundreds of students, your professor may never know if you ditch class. New technology may end that.

The University of Missouri has been using an app that can keep track of which students are and aren’t in class, according to an article from The Kansas City Star. The question is, will Colorado State University follow suit?


According to the article, MU has been using the Spotter tracking app on freshman student-athletes for the past several years, and, according to another article from The Kansas City Star, professors volunteered to use their classes as guinea pigs in a recent test pilot of the app on students new to campus this semester.
Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies at MU, said in the article that every student is aware they are being monitored, but students were not given a choice in whether they wanted to be a part of the pilot or not. 
Spain also said the university was working with students who do not have a phone so they can participate as well, and this app is meant to help students succeed and allow teachers know who is and isn’t coming to class without the hassle of taking attendance manually.

In this technological era, that data is stored and often distributed, whether intentionally or not.” -Marlie Moseley, first-year art history major

In the app, the student has their class schedule, and each class is connected to a hidden iBeacon. When the student enters a classroom, they receive a ping. The student also receives a notification if they are absent, which helps prevent a present student from being marked absent if they forgot to turn their Bluetooth on. 
“Attending class is for learning purposes,” said Hussain Alabdullah, a senior studying electrical engineering at CSU. “Forcing (attendance) doesn’t mean they are going to learn from that class.”
While CSU Director of Media Relations Mike Hooker says the University doesn’t currently have plans to use an app like Spotter, the app has still received criticism from some students who consider such tracking methods an invasion of student privacy.
“It is a huge invasion of privacy,” said Marlie Moseley, a first-year art history major. “As well as the fact that once data is collected, in this technological era, that data is stored and often distributed, whether intentionally or not.”
On Spotter’s website, it says there is no GPS tracking, as an iBeacon is being used. The iBeacon sends signals to the app from a specific location where the app only picks it up at a certain time through Bluetooth.
To put it simply, it works the same as connecting and disconnecting a phone to a speaker, except the Spotter app is collecting data, not playing music.
The Spotter application on Feb. 16. Spotter is used to automate and keep track of a student’s in-class attendance. (Ryan Schmidt | The Collegian)
The data collected is very minimal, such as the device type, the app version, the notifications enabled, the location ID, the time stamp and whether the student entered or exited the room, according to Spotter’s website. The platform and the information it collects is secured through Amazon Web Services. 
In the past, universities have tried to track attendance other ways, such as with iClicker Reef, which is very similar to Spotter in that as long as a student is in the vicinity of the class, the app will mark them as present. Some CSU professors have used such apps before.
“I have used an app in class before where the teacher could track our attendance, and it wasn’t that much of a hassle, but I wonder if they could track our location through the app outside of the classroom,” said Yocelyn Iboa, a senior political science major at CSU.
Spotter does not allow professors to have access to their students’ locations outside of the classroom due to its use of a Bluetooth signal instead of Wi-Fi. When students disable Bluetooth on their devices, the app can no longer locate them. 
Spotter was created by a Michigan State University basketball coach who wanted to track the attendance of his players to help them succeed in other areas of their lives. Now, the app is used at roughly 40 schools and universities nationwide, according to The Kansas City Star. 
Daniela Navarro can be reached at or on Twitter @thedanielazahra