Albion College confines students to campus with location tracking app

As Albion College prepares to bring students to campus for the upcoming semester, it will implement a variety of restrictions.

Students and parents have expressed concern over the school’s rules limiting student travel to local areas and requiring the use of an app that tracks user locations.

Albion College is facing backlash for announcing that students must limit travel to campus and the surrounding area, particularly in light of the fact that the school has also made the use of a location tracking app for contact tracing purposes mandatory. 

As part of its plan to bring students back to campus, Albion will test incoming students, faculty, and staff at move-in, and all students will be required to self-quarantine on campus for a three-day period. Students ‘travel will be restricted to the college campus and the local area. 

“All students will be restricted to campus unless they have an approved reason to leave,” college staff wrote in a compilation of responses to parents’ questions. “Restrictions on student travel are recommended by state and local officials to reduce the risk of transmission between the campus or community populations.” 

Students may not have overnight guests. They may apply to have visitors, but guests are not permitted to enter any of the college’s buildings, and all visits will be conducted outdoors. 

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The school’s plan also informed students that they will be required to download and use a contact tracing app called Aura. This service will report test results directly to students, collect self-reported daily health assessments, and provide students with reminders about safe health practices.  

Additionally, as college president Matthew Johnsonsaid in statements provided to Campus Reform, Aura has the “capability to record the location of students throughout the day much like a fitness app might record your run or your steps.” This feature is an “essential tool” for tracing anyone who comes in contact with a student who tests positive. 

Further, “the location data can also be used to notify campus authorities if a student leaves campus so that we can manage the risks associated with someone leaving campus and returning.” 

TechCrunch identified multiple security flaws associated with the app, some of which were uncovered by an Albion student who told the company that she doesn’t plan to use Aura: “I’m trying to work with the college to find an alternative way to be tested.” 

Will Strafach, a security researcher and chief executive at Guardian Firewall, told TechCrunch that the app sounded like a “rush job.”

The university said that Aura “assured us that they are conducting daily internal security audits and that they have consulted with external, independent security firms to ensure that the Aura app is safe and will keep all personal information, of every member on our campus, confidential.”

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

Students will not be expelled in the event that they leave campus in defiance of the restrictions, but they may be subject to consequences imposed by the student judicial system, Johnson said. 

A parent started a petition on behalf of Albion students to several news networks as well as to the university and to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. More than 1,600 people have signed the petition, which expresses concern over the heavy restrictions placed on Albion students. 

“I find all of this extremely invasive,” the author wrote. “I am all for being a responsible adult by wearing a mask, social distancing, and making wise choices about hygiene per CDC guidelines, but giving up freedoms and privacy is taking this too far.”

“Right now, we believe this is the best possible path forward,” Johnson said in statements provided to Campus Reform, promising that the university “will be monitoring the results closely and following medical guidance, shifting our approach on an ongoing basis as needed, and communicating with our entire community as quickly as possible.” 

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