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University Student Tracker App Sparks Outrage

Students have blasted a NSW university's plan to use mobile data to track their attendance, labelling it a violation of privacy.

The University of Newcastle announced a plan to trial a mobile application in 2020 that uses geolocation to confirm whether or not a student attended class.

The move aims to track first-year students' compulsory attendance to tutorials, laboratory sessions and seminars. First-years at UON are required to attend 80 per cent of classes in 1000 level courses.

The university's 'compulsory attendance policy' will affect some students at Callaghan, Ourimbah and Newcastle City campuses but does not affect all lectures or online students.

Students starting university in 2020 will be expected to check-in using the mobile app to confirm that they're physically in the classroom.

The university claimed it's a measure to monitor compulsory attendance, but the student union's education officer Luka Harrison told 10 daily it's a "gross violation" of student privacy.

"I'm very, very disappointed in the university. There has been no consultation with students," Harrison claimed.

10 daily obtained a screenshot of an update to students about the attendance monitoring plan. Image: Supplied

Harrison claimed he's already received up to 20 complaints from prospective students since the plan came to light.

"How we found out about it was when they updated the app. There were no emails, even as education officer the first I heard about it was seeing a screenshot of the app," he claimed.

The university has since said the trial is optional and students will be given the chance to opt-out and sign in using a physical roll instead.

"When the new process starts in Semester One, students will have the option of using the app to check-in using geolocation or going directly to the class teacher who will sign them in," a UON spokesperson said.

"The trial is an important way for us to get feedback from our students about the technology and process.

"All information captured in the roll-out of the compulsory attendance policy will be confidentially managed in accordance with NSW Privacy Laws, and will be securely held and used only for the purposes as outlined in the 2020 terms and conditions of enrolment," the spokesperson added.

"This information will form part of the student’s record."

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Law student Bec said she was worried that student data may be misused and felt the policy was completely unnecessary.

It's a bit of a joke to track adults on their phones to make sure they are showing up to their classes.

"It's concerning we can be tracked, meaning lots of people will opt-out, making the system redundant," Bec said.

UON student Cindy Basset felt the attendance policy would be an invasion of privacy. Image: Supplied

Cindy Basset, 22, studies podiatry and felt the move could cost students their privacy.

"I think it's not accurate as there can be some location discrepancies and they'll be able to see where we are anywhere, which I feel is an invasion of our privacy," Basset said.

A privacy impact assessment should have been carried out to address the multiple privacy concerns involved in mobile-tracking, Steven Blanks from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said of the plan.

"I think students are right to be concerned that they don't know enough about this, and it shouldn't be implemented until they do," Blanks said.

"Students aren't being told exactly what data is being collected, how it's going to be stored, who's going to have access to it."

Students may also be vulnerable to having their personal information stolen if hackers gain access to the university's database, Blanks added.

"There will be some students who want to avoid some apps collecting location data. Is this program by the uni effectively going to force students to disclose data to other apps? That hasn't been addressed."

It is not the first time a university has come under fire for privacy concerns.

Image: Getty

The University of Melbourne raised eyebrows in 2016 after it was revealed students were being tracked through WiFi usage.

The university denied it was breaching students' privacy and said they were simply tracking movements of students, not individuals.

"The legal framework in Australia is inadequate and it does need to be improved. The problem is there are always pressures on the government to weaken privacy protections even further," Blanks said.

Contact Eden at egillespie@networkten.com.au