Contact tracing through Bluetooth and WiFi: Should college students be concerned?

  • The University of Arizona and the University of Mississippi are both utilizing Bluetooth signals to anonymously notify people if they have potentially benn exposed to COVID-19.
  • Meanwhile, Oklahoma State University will be taking advantage of campus WIFI as a tool for contact tracing.

Schools across the nation have announced they are turning to technology to help control the spread of coronavirus, leading to growing privacy concerns.

The University of Arizona touted that it is the first college to utilize Bluetooth signals to help control the spread of coronavirus. Using the COVID Watch phone app, the University of Arizona will send anonymous exposure notification alerts via Bluetooth to other app users whose phones were near the infected person.

“Data ethics is of the utmost priority with regards to student information.”   

[RELATED: Harvard plans to track students' WiFi signals for coronavirus contact tracing]

The University of Arizona told Campus Reform that the technology is not mandatory but encouraged. If a student turns off their Bluetooth, the app cannot assess the risk. When asked about privacy concerns and if the technology poses any security risk to students, the university told Campus Reform, “No, because the information is randomized.”

[RELATED: EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Students call out college's 'creepy' new tracking technology]

The University of Mississippi is enacting a similar Bluetooth technology. 

Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to self-report in the Everbridge app if they test positive for COVID-19. Then, the app will privately notify those who may have been exposed.

According to the school’s newspaper, Bluetooth technology will not be used to track users’ locations or movements.

“It gives our contact tracing team a head start in their investigation so we can quickly identify and quarantine those exposed,” Director of Health Services Alex Langhart told the school’s newspaper.

[RELATED: College mandates wearable device to track COVID-19. It does not go over well.]

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State University will utilize campus WIFI for contact tracing, a plan similar to that of Harvard University.

According to the school’s website, “Leveraging existing campus technology, OSU has developed analytics to identify employee and student movement across the OSU campus via WiFi access points.” The school’s website said that location data will be held in “extreme confidence” and shared only with leadership “when cases arise for which location information is useful.”

[RELATED: Albion College confines students to campus with location tracking app]

Oklahoma State University told Campus Reform that the only data that can be collected is WiFi access points, ID card swipes, class schedules, and housing assignments. Location data will be stored for 30 days and students will not be able to be located when off-campus.

OSU Public Information Officer Shannon Rigsby told Campus Reform that anyone can opt out of the WiFi network by turning off the WiFi on their phone or other devices. 

“It’s that simple,” Rigsby told Campus Reform. “Data ethics is of the utmost priority with regards to student information.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @JezzamineWolk



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Jezzamine Wolk

Jezzamine Wolk is a reporter for Campus Reform. Prior to taking on her current position, Jezzamine served as an associate producer for Fox & Friends First on the Fox News Channel.

20 Articles by Jezzamine Wolk