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How To Tell If Your School is Tracking Your Online Activity

How To Tell If Your School is Tracking Your Online Activity
Apr 7, 2022
When you go to school from the lower grades, it’s almost expected that everything you do will be scrutinized. But when you become an adult and sign up for college, the tracking of your data seems pretty ridiculous. So if you want to know the ways your school is tracking your online activity, this is the article for you.
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How To Tell If Your School is Tracking Your Online Activity - FastVPN
When you go to school from the lower grades, it’s almost expected that everything you do will be scrutinized. But when you become an adult and sign up for college, the tracking of your data seems pretty ridiculous. So if you want to know the ways your school is tracking your online activity, this is the article for you.
We will provide the methods schools use and what data they typically gather. You will also get ways you can prevent school tracking through this list.

How Do Schools Track You Online?

If you’ve read some of our other articles on tracking, you might have an idea of how they track you. In this case, the how depends on one of two situations:
  • Are you using the private university network?
Your school tracks what you do in both cases, but what they follow changes depending on how you use it.

How Universities Track You On Public Networks

Here’s a list of ways that universities can track you on public WiFi:
  • Router admins can access the general information of anyone connected to their WiFi
  • This includes information on what you access, the name of your computer, your location, and IP address
Public universities don’t typically use your information for programmatic advertising. However, anything can happen these days, so it’s best to protect your data in all cases.
The general usage of a publically available network also comes with other risks:
  • Hackers can gather information on this information: IP address, location, and details on your connection data
  • Man in the Middle attacks can steal data on data transfers and sometimes steal the information sent between
  • Evil Twin attacks occur when another similarly-named serve attempts to fool users into connecting to their network (allowing complete access to all data)
Using public networks come with a pretty notable degree of risk. However, there are ways to prevent that risk. Turning on your VPN encrypts your connection and traffic logs, eliminating many of these issues.
If you are a student at the school, you also have access to a private university network. However, there is a different risk that comes with private network tracking.

How Schools Track You On Private Networks

A university’s private network is only accessible to students, teachers, and alumni. With the word “private,” you might expect there to be more security. However, these network types change the type of tracking.
Access to these private networks typically requires some identity confirmation. This includes logging in through a username and password.
When you log into their network through that username, the college’s IT team can track everything you do. This is similar to the admins tracking you on public WiFi. What makes it worse is that they can confirm your identity for all connection and traffic logs. For privacy-conscious individuals, this is what you would call a nightmare scenario.
This situation is no different from creating a Google Account and giving them complete access to your search history and browsing data. But what do universities do with this data, and what data do they collect?

What Data Do Universities Collect

What data they collect depends on the type of network you use:

Public Network Data Collection

  • Your IP address, which includes your computer’s name and location so that they might confirm how often you use the network (to limit your usage of it). IP Address information also allows them to block your computer if you access data they do not want to support (i.e., streaming services).
  • The web browsing data that you use when accessing their network. This includes all the websites you use and the items you download while on the public network.
  • Details on your device, which can include its make and model number. This is another method they can use to identify you, known as device fingerprinting.

Private Network Data Collection

The data gathered from using university accounts is far more detailed:
  • When creating an account on their school network, your identity is willingly given to them. This account associates all of your traffic and connection logs to this identity. Anything you use this network for is something they can observe.
  • Schools typically support a messaging system that stores all communications. Universities tell you that this stored communication is for your protection. However, those who manage the email system can access all emails and communications sent.
  • Your search history is also just as accessible, as logging into the account often requires you to host some software. This software sometimes comes with stalkerware, a specific form of malware that acts as a keylogger for everything you type.
Of course, what is tracked depends on your chosen college. Not all colleges install stalkerware on your device, so you might not have to worry about keylogging.
Also, since fellow students typically manage the IT team, they might not care about what you use. Regardless, the invasion of privacy is still a significant issue.

What Do Universities Do With Your Data?

As you might imagine, not all universities are the same. So what they do with your data changes on a school-by-school basis. Here’s is what universities do with your data and connection information:
  • To throttle (or eliminate) unwanted connections. If you use your free time to browse YouTube or watch Netflix, you will likely experience a slowdown. Non-essential functions are almost always throttled at these universities, even if you are viewing an educational documentary.
  • To prevent you from gaming. Video games take up a lot of bandwidth from a university’s perspective. When you need to log in for internet access, it eliminates your chances of any form of online gaming.
  • Marketing and advertising. Universities use demographics to find out where most of their students come from. Marketing specialists within universities use this to narrow down advertising strategies based on their most common group of students.
  • To block specific sites. Universities have the right to block entire groups of sites. Some of these sites include book summaries and ways to acquire free textbooks. You might also see the blocking of adult material.

Why University Tracking is a Problem

From an outside perspective (namely, people who don’t have to deal with it personally), you might think that this is a good thing. After all, shouldn’t they be focusing on furthering their education? The short answer: no.
You might think that blocking non-educational material helps out. However, imagine if your Internet Service Provider (ISP) decided to do that to you? Of course, you would throw up your hands and start cursing up a storm about your ISP, trying to dictate what you do.
This is 100% the debate on network neutrality. The debate surged worldwide after Ajit Pai, a former FCC chairman, undid many of the net neutrality rules. While some of what he did was undone, it is still a hot-button issue with comparative examples found in what college looks like today.
The reality is that these people are adults. While you could debate all day about how “adulty” these adults are, they have a right to access information and do the things they want. When they pay for education and access to a dorm room, they should be treated like all other adults.
So when you say that universities should be allowed to control whatever bandwidth that comes through, remember that these students are paying for the service of education. Part of this service is WiFi and being able to relax when you want (and how you want).

How To Prevent Your University From Tracking You

So if you want to start somewhere regarding the university track, your first step is to stop it. After all, the alternative says that it’s no big deal, which is an untrue statement. Here are some ways to prevent tracking:

Method #1: Use a VPN

A VPN (a virtual private network) provides you with a secure connection tunnel. To remain secure on public WiFi is an ideal solution.
Because the encryption starts as soon as it leaves your computer, most of the server admins won’t be able to get any information. Any information they get will be a garbled mess due to not having access to your ciphers.
Having a VPN might also prevent some of the stalkerware colleges provide from being useless. After all, encrypting all data (even those that come out of applications) is the whole point. However, you might still give up some account-based information.

Method #2: Invest in a Portable Router

A portable route acts as a level of security between you and the semi-private college network. By connecting your router to the school’s WiFi, you create a firewall between you and some of the more invasive programs that come with a university.
Bringing a portable router will also often overcome some of the gaming limitations. Many of these login approval programs require a single connection from the source to be approved. As long as you approve of the link from your computer connected to the router, you can overcome any gaming limitations.
While this won’t hide everything, it does limit what the other college network receives. After all, much of the data they have access to comes from admin privileges. If they are no longer an admin of your smaller network, they only get the reduced version.
However, this will not encrypt your connections. So while a potable route provides an extra layer of security, the college can still gather a chunk of information from you. Combine this with a VPN, and the knowledge that they get will be further limited.

Method #3: Stick To Public Networks

While it is counterintuitive in most other situations, public networks are often more secure if you don’t want your college to know your information. This is because the public WiFi doesn’t require any account creation, making it more challenging to link a person to data.
The inherent risks of using public networks are usually manageable when tech-savvy. Most of the information you could expose can be hidden behind a VPN. In other cases, evil twin attacks typically have some pretty obvious signs. For example, you could find that the college WiFi has a password. Also, the locations of these evil twin networks are usually weird places.
So if you can, stick to public network access. This will mean you are more likely to leave your dormitory. However, there is one other option that is a bit more expensive.

Method #4: Move Out of the Dorms

One way to avoid the need for public network tracking is to remove yourself from the offending network. You’ll want to find a spot near campus to move into to do this.
With a personal home network to manage, you don’t have to log into your college account. Most of that account and amenities are no longer required. Having your home network gives you complete control of data management.
As you might imagine, your cost of living is almost always going to go up at this point. You’ll need to start paying rent, food, and internet expenses out of pocket (instead of grants or scholarships). However, because living on campus is seen as a luxury, you might find it more cost-effective in the long run.
If you are still going through initial credits, your college might require you to take the first year on campus. You might also find the addition of adding home management to be somewhat tricky. After all, you pay for the luxury of being able to walk to your classes.
What’s more frustrating is that ISPs might still find reasons to throttle your bandwidth. So regardless, all of these situations can see benefits from VPNs.

What Else Can You Do About University Tracking?

Despite all ways you can avoid tracking, this won’t prevent the university from engaging in this activity. If your goal is to make changes, you’ll need to take an active role in your school.

Get Educated On The Issue

Your first goal should be to make people aware of the school’s policy on data gathering. This will require you to have an awareness of your school’s policies.
If you are still a freshman without an account, you can take a moment to read the school’s privacy policy. Take a closer look at it and see how they handle their data.
If there is nothing specific about what they do with your information and what information they gather, ask for it. Going to the school’s information offices is a great start.
Once you get all the information you can, you need to state your points clearly and concisely. List out why ts is a problem (look earlier in our reference to net neutrality.
Once you get those points across, you can move on to the next phase.

Submit a Formal Complaint

If you know anything about authority, you already know most people will blow you off. This is why you will want to submit a formal complaint to the college.
Inquire about your college’s formal complaint system. If they take you seriously, you might get some return communication. However, nine times out of ten, you’ll get absolutely nothing.
Regardless, identifying yourself and how they can contact you are part of the form. But when you get no response, it’s time to start a campaign.

Rally Others To Your Cause

College campuses are a gold mine for planting new ideas in the heads of your classmates. A lot of this starts with raising awareness of issues.
In college, people tend to care more about these significant issues. This is because they are beginning to get a more educated political opinion. Internet privacy isn’t an opinion yet for many of these students, but you can make it such.
Most of the time, with these students making discoveries about the data they have out there, they get a bit disturbed. On the other hand, some of these students are prolific social media users who don’t care. But your goal may be more about educating them about the importance of owning their data.
Even if progress feels slow, you’ll get people to start talking about this issue. You’ll probably attract some unwanted attention at this point. However, you will have made your point. You might be able to start a club about internet security.

Start A Petition

Once you get through the initial pain of getting a following (possibly a club), you can move on and get people to start signing petitions. These petitions require members of the public school system to recognize that there are issues.
You’ll want to get many clear, legible signatures that you can easily connect to fellow students. Your petition should be specific and look something like this:
  • For the removal of required software that tracks us
  • Removal of data throttling based on unapproved activities
  • The ability to make data removal and “no tracking” request
You’ll want to refute a specific school policy. If you don’t know the procedure, you are rallying against nothing. This is why educating yourself on the issues is so important.

Wrap Up

College can be significant whether you are fresh out of high school or thinking about going back to school. Since online school is becoming more popular, you find most of the tracking issues are less emphasized. However, there are still a few dinosaur colleges that rely on data tracking.
Since you pay for it, you are a customer. While the customer isn’t always right (because that’s how you create bad retail experiences), they have a voice. If enough customers start complaining, you can bet that change will be on the horizon.
Until data tracking stops, you can remain secure by getting The Fast VPN. Whether you use public or private networks, there is always a reason to encrypt your data.
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