Your Digital Footprint Matters (even at Boston College)

digitalfootprintsEvery time you go online you leave a digital footprint that can be searched, copied, shared, or broadcasted. Digital footprints are the comments (even private ones) we leave on social media sites such as Facebook, statuses, YouTube videos, blog posts, history of websites visited, apps used, and e-mails to name a few. Our digital footprint leaves behind evidence of what we have done, where we have been, what we have been thinking, and who our friends and family are etc. It is not surprising that firms use the information we leave behind to track us. Companies are able to analyze huge amounts of our data and link it across multiple contexts. This can result in targeted advertisements based on our shopping habits and preferences. Our data can be used for malicious purposes such as identity fraud. We know Google is tracking our search history, and the credit card companies are tracking our shopping habits/patterns.

BC’s Success at Tracking a Student’s Digital Footprint

Many would agree that students live in the BC bubble whereby they seldom consider that they are being tracked by Boston College. Is Boston College actively tracking its students? Employees?

 copy-of-managing-your-digital-footprint-11-638On Saturday, 9 November 2013, three small fires were apparently set in Gasson and Stokes halls. No one was injured, but the North wing of the fourth floor of Stokes Hall sustained smoke and water damage caused by the fire and the activated sprinkler system. BC’s Office of News and Public Affairs announced on Wednesday, 27 November 2013, that a student was arrested for the Gasson and Stokes fires. Boston College Police arrested Pengliang Yue on 11.26.2013, after an investigation of the fires. Pengliang Yue, a junior from Shenzhen, China, was arraigned on 11.27.2013 in Newton District Court on one count of arson, three counts of attempted arson, four counts of malicious destruction of property and one count of disorderly conduct. He was issued a summary suspension from the University upon his arrest. He was prosecuted by the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office.

Did the student come forward and confessed? When considering the charges, it is safe to say the student did not voluntarily come forward. How did BC figure out who lit the fires? It was public knowledge across campus that Boston College reviewed its wireless network logs and identified that Mr. Yue IP address was the only one active in the vicinity of the fires. BC was able to track his movement as data transferred vice versa at each access point from his laptop to the wireless network. Certainly BC was not actively tracking the student but in light of the fires the university used its stored data of the student’s digital footprint to trace the movements of the student that night.

Back to the question – is Boston College actively tracking its students? Employees?

eduroam_300pix-300x175I don’t think the university is actively tracking individual student’s digital footprint as this may be an infringement on their privacy. However, I am sure they are aware of the websites students visit i.e. they are aware of their online activity. I would like to think that BC isn’t tracking its employees but that remains unknown. Surely, all faculty and staff who use BC owned laptops and tablets should operate under the premise that the university can monitor their usage. In any event I do believe that BC has the potential to track everyone especially with introduction of the Eduroam (education roaming) Wireless Network. In order to connect to Eduroam users must enter their BC login credentials. It is quite common for users to access the Eduroam Wireless Network on their laptops, cell phones and tablets. Once you logon to eduroam, BC has access to your IP address and can track your movement from your mobile device. How can this be potentially useful for BC? Timestamp employees! As soon as employees arrive on-campus and connect to eduroam they can be time-stamped and their location mapped as they walk to their offices. Scary? Yes. Is time stamping employees via their digital footprint likely to happen? I don’t know but time will tell.


  1. I would be amazed if BC did not have the technology to monitor all online activity, although due to the sheer volume, I’m sure there is no active tracking. From what I understand, turning off mobile devices does not actually kill the signal, which is why it’s recommended that you remove the battery (and place it in your tinfoil hat) if you’re really concerned, or leave the device at home altogether. Of course you would still have to deal with the cameras that I can only assume are located all over campus. The point being, of course, that it’s not a good idea to try to start a fire! (among other reasons)

  2. This is kind of a scary thought. I am fully aware that universities and companies have the ability to track what people do online. However, I never think about it unless it gets brought up and it scares me everytime. Not that I am embarrassed by what I look at, but the sheer fact that something I could accidentally click on could be used against me. I have been monitoring everything I’ve done on social media ever since it was brought to my attention that companies use our profiles as our current resumes (I use the “what would your grandma think if she saw this post” rule). It also seems unfair to me that something I did as an ignorant freshman in high school could be judged by potential employers but I guess that comes with the territory.

  3. Wow. This is super informative yet super creepy to think about. I guess it was naive of me to think that anything I do on my laptop under the Boston College/Eudoram network would not be able to be monitored by BC. I know that everything on social media, even after you “delete” it, is still accessible to people. I know that at work this is definitely the case and that even when you are using your own personal email, etc. that they can still track what you are doing and what you are saying. I do remember hearing about the fact the student who was arrested for the BC fires in 2013 was tracked down by the internet. It does make me feel somewhat safe to know that there are these possibilities out there to track occurrences like this. However, it is also an easy feeling to know that everything that I am doing is somehow being tracked to a certain extent.

  4. handhandhand · ·

    Great post! It’s very important to remind people that yes, you are constantly being tracked – ESPECIALLY on campus. It’s not to be creepy, its for the safety of everyone here. As an employee, I would bet this year’s salary that BC would never time-stamp employees as they arrive to their offices – it just doesn’t fit with the culture here. But I have worked for a company in which you had to “sign in” through your computer when you got to work and “sign out” for lunch or meetings .. so we were constantly being tracked, it’s not a good feeling and it was part of the reason why I left – no one wants to be babysat :)

    But rest assured, we are also being tracked off campus …. your computer and phones are constantly pinging towers and providing your location, if law enforcement needs to find you, its very very very likely that they will, especially if you have a cell phone or laptop on you! That student probably should’ve taken this class :)

  5. I am with @handhandhand – don’t mind what I do being tracked because a) nothing to hide (not like it would impact me as discussed on the video assigned for today’s class) b) it truly can keep us safe. And the more students are aware, the better! It can truly discourage negative behavior or narrow down subjects in the event of an incident. Your article @paulri2015 also reminded me of the Serial podcast, where the protagonist’s case was highly reliant on cell tower information (that arguably didn’t match his story). The bottomline is that we leave data everywhere. It can protect us, help us but can also harm us (even if we haven’t done something to be concerned about).

    1. handhandhand · ·

      @ngandia was that podcast good? I’ve heard of it before

      1. It was awesome – you should check it out! I binged watched it this summer. They will likely have a follow-up one since the case is being reopened.

  6. Really interesting and kind of off-putting! Like other people have mentioned, I have nothing to hide so it’s not an immediate concern, but the fact that everything is tracked or could be tracked is kind of nerve-wracking. I read an article last year on Forbes and smart cities which was both exciting and scary, kind of taking this idea to the extreme (I couldn’t find the exact article but this is another interesting one on the topic:

    Smart cities present a huge possibility for higher efficiency and coordination. But at the same time, more and more data on us as individuals would be accessible to institutions and governments.

  7. Nice post. The university certainly CAN track everything that goes through its servers. Whether it does is another story. I doubt they track individual computers (especially macs). They also might not want to track, because they COULD be held liable if they do. Prof Chang used to discuss a Child Porn case where the employer was found liable because they SHOULD have known it was happening, even though they promised not to monitor employee’s communication.

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