When people location trackers are marketed as ‘smart badges’ by trusted brands (like ISTE), when their operations are not explained, and when the technology is obfuscated, people become de-sensitized to practices they may otherwise object to.
Did the people in these pictures know they were socializing and learning in an environment where each of their movements were tracked within a meter of accuracy? Did they understand how these data will be used, how it is secured, and with whom it will be shared? Do they each think the cost-benefit of sharing these location data are worth the yet-to-be-sent conference summary emails? Did the surveillance system actually allow ISTE to make adjustments in real-time to popular sessions that were turning away participants?
Yet, despite the email and the physical signs at the registration desk, many people asserted to me that they never received notice of the use of the ‘smart badge’. Of those that did, many had no idea how it worked. They thought it was just a QR code for vendors to scan. Many didn’t understand that it was a battery-powered transmitter without an off-switch. Not a one was happy upon learning what I discovered.
Did ISTE offer enough information to participants so they could make an informed judgment about the value of wearing the badge vs. the potential risks? Should wearing the badges have been an opt-in vs. opt-out decision for participants? For educators trying to manage the privacy and security risks of edtech in their own classrooms, what lesson does this incident impart about best practices and informed consent?
As ISTE and its members collectively mull through these questions, I look forward to hearing about the reactions to the after-conference reports that participants are slated to receive about their movements and presumed interests. Will folks feel like it added value? I bet for some segment of participants receiving that email will trigger concerns they didn’t even know enough to worry about in the first place. It will be the first time they realized their movements have been tracked.