UNC Check-In: UNC-Chapel Hill’s Controversial New App

Anchor Lead: 

It’s called “UNC Check In.” It’s a new app that allows students to check into their classes and for instructors to take attendance digitally.

Reporter Jackson Lanier has more on why the University created the app…and the controversy surrounding the technology.

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Jackson: In the spring of 2018, U-N-C Psychology professor…Dr. Viji Sathy began working with UNC I-T Services to develop a way to make taking class attendance easier. 

They installed a Bluetooth beacon in Dr. Sathy’s classroom to detect the proximity of students’ phones and used an app to log students’ attendance. Faculty support for the technology grew…and before the start of this semester…the university installed Bluetooth beacons in every classroom on campus.

So how does the app work? First a student must download the app. Then it uses the phone’s Bluetooth and GPS to determine the student’s location. Once a student’s phone is within range of the Bluetooth beacon the UNC-Check In app will then display the class name. After clicking on the class, your attendance is logged.

But not everyone is happy about the app. In 2018, the US Supreme Court ruled that location data is private information. Non-profit digital rights group…the Electronic Frontier Foundation… told Carolina Week “We have serious privacy and security concerns about any school requiring or even requesting that students download any location tracking app. … Schools should not be requiring students to hand over their location information as a cost of getting an education, nor should they be requesting that students voluntarily hand over such sensitive information.”

The university has advertised the app as a way to save instructors time…and to make sure attendance records don’t get lost. 

U-N-C did not respond to our requests for an interview about the app.  

In Chapel Hill, I’m Jackson Lanier, Carolina Week.

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UNC is not the only university rolling out systems to track students. Schools such as Syracuse University, the University of Missouri, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the University of Alabama have implemented similar technology. 

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