Your school is tracking your online activity—here’s what you can do about it

While you're on campus, your school is almost certainly tracking your online activity. Here’s what you should be wary of, and what you can do to improve your privacy and security as a student.

2 min read
Jamie

Jamie is always hungry. He also writes about digital privacy in exchange for sandwiches.

school is tracking your online activity

The start of the new school year is only weeks away, which for most students means spending lots of time online, either for work or… “other” things.

But whether you’re in high school or university, chances are that the time you spend online at school is monitored, one way or another. From Wi-Fi usage trackers to biometric scanners that log attendance, administrators can figure out who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing online.

What can your school track?

1. Your online activity

Whenever you connect to Wi-Fi on campus, from any device, your school knows which websites you’ve visited. And, if the sites are not secured with HTTPS, it can also see what you’ve looked at.

Your college or high school could also implement classroom management software, which monitors computer use and internet history, as was revealed in a study by privacy advocates Big Brother Watch in over 1,000 schools across the UK.

If your college hosts its email system, it’s also likely that all correspondence through it is monitored too, as is the case in several UK universities.

2. Your movements on (and off) campus

In addition to the sites you visit, your university can find out where you are from your Wi-Fi usage. In Australia, several universities track the movement of students around campus through their Wi-Fi-connected mobile phones, and can even tell the exact room the students are in.

While the universities currently only track the movements of students in general, it’s entirely possible that the technology used could expand to identify activity on an individual level—to check the amount of time you’re not on campus and reflect that time in your grades, for instance.

Combine that with the presence of CCTV camera surveillance on campus and the university can figure out your physical location at all times. Creepy!

How to stop your university from tracking you

  1. Get the EFF’s HTTPS Everywhere browser add-on. Bonus: The add-on is also in our Chrome extension!
  2. It’s self-serving of us to say this, but getting a good VPN will hide all your internet traffic from your school’s Wi-Fi admins.
  3. Separate your private and academic correspondence; use an email provider that puts your personal privacy and security first. We recommend one of these four email providers.
  4. Make an anti-surveillance fashion statement, whether it’s a trippy scarf or a simple face mask to avoid identification by CCTV cameras on campus.
  5. Most important, read up on the privacy practices your school uses (or doesn’t use) and find out how much your university gathers from your online activity.

$5,000 for your thoughts?

Are you a student concerned about privacy and security online? How would you want to see your school’s privacy policy change (or the world’s, for that matter)? Tell us in 400 words, and you could win a $5,000 scholarship!

Jamie writes about current issues concerning digital privacy and security and is known to interview leading figures in tech. He also keeps an eye on changes in government censorship and surveillance.