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School Shows Off Webcam Spying Capabilities

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 58 comments

Big teacher is watching you.

One of the stranger bits of news that we've been tracking lately has dealt with the Lower Merion School District and its use of monitoring software in the Apple MacBooks that it has distributed to 2,300 of its students.

Student Blake J. Robbins is suing Lower Merion School District in Philadelphia allegedly remotely activating his webcam. The remote activation of his webcam was exposed when student Blake J. Robbins was disciplined for "improper behavior in his home" by the Vice Principal, who provided a photo taken by the webcam as evidence.

The school confirmed that it has the ability to control the webcams, but that the capability has since been disabled in response to the recent issue.

It seems that the Lower Merion schools aren't the only one with the spying capabilities that were apparently used in the current class action lawsuit. A reader of Boing Boing pointed out that PBS aired a documentary a few weeks ago called "Digital Nation." In it, vice-principle of Intermediate School 339, Bronx, NY, Dan Ackerman showed how he's able to remotely monitor students through webcam.

Ackerman demonstrates the webcam spying ability: "They don't even realize we are watching," "I always like to mess with them and take a picture," and "9 times out of 10, THEY DUCK OUT OF THE WAY."

Oddly there are no questions regarding student privacy, which is likely how the recent class action lawsuit came about.

Click here to watch the video at PBS. Skip to around 4:36 to see the remote webcam monitoring.

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Top Comments
  • 29 Hide
    haunted one , February 26, 2010 9:39 PM
    "Ackerman demonstrates the webcam spying ability: "They don't even realize we are watching," "I always like to mess with them and take a picture,"


    I must be terribly mistaken, but is he saying this with.......PRIDE?
  • 23 Hide
    ezodagrom , February 26, 2010 10:18 PM
    Quote:
    Ummm, these are school owned laptops being used in school. The school is remotely accessing this laptops to make sure the students are working. The students are not supposed to have this camera application open (as he says they are using it for checking their appearance). So rather then giving them say a detention he orders their computer to take a picture. This is meant to get the students back to work rather then goofing off (which he says works). Why is this a bad thing?

    Quote:
    was disciplined for "improper behavior in his home"

    When they're checking what the students do AT HOME, something is definitely wrong.
  • 22 Hide
    False_Dmitry_II , February 26, 2010 10:38 PM
    This means that you're telling me that it isn't just one, but MULTIPLE schools putting MACBOOKS on the PUBLIC BUDGET?!

    That's starting to make me angry instead of just thinking it's a huge joke.
Other Comments
  • 18 Hide
    gekko668 , February 26, 2010 9:30 PM
    I want to know how long have this been going on?
  • 29 Hide
    haunted one , February 26, 2010 9:39 PM
    "Ackerman demonstrates the webcam spying ability: "They don't even realize we are watching," "I always like to mess with them and take a picture,"


    I must be terribly mistaken, but is he saying this with.......PRIDE?
  • 21 Hide
    nforce4max , February 26, 2010 9:40 PM
    Child porn!! This is big brother at work. The staff that used this needs to be fired.
  • 22 Hide
    sceen311 , February 26, 2010 9:41 PM
    If only I had one of these laptops, that vice principle douche would get many good views of the full moon.
  • 23 Hide
    ezodagrom , February 26, 2010 10:18 PM
    Quote:
    Ummm, these are school owned laptops being used in school. The school is remotely accessing this laptops to make sure the students are working. The students are not supposed to have this camera application open (as he says they are using it for checking their appearance). So rather then giving them say a detention he orders their computer to take a picture. This is meant to get the students back to work rather then goofing off (which he says works). Why is this a bad thing?

    Quote:
    was disciplined for "improper behavior in his home"

    When they're checking what the students do AT HOME, something is definitely wrong.
  • 21 Hide
    Mousemonkey , February 26, 2010 10:19 PM
    Quote:
    Ummm, these are school owned laptops being used in school. The school is remotely accessing this laptops to make sure the students are working. The students are not supposed to have this camera application open (as he says they are using it for checking their appearance). So rather then giving them say a detention he orders their computer to take a picture. This is meant to get the students back to work rather then goofing off (which he says works). Why is this a bad thing?

    If your daughter had one of these laptops and pictures of her in various states of undress appeared on the internet how would you feel about it then?
  • 12 Hide
    ben850 , February 26, 2010 10:19 PM
    put tape over the eye :p 
  • 2 Hide
    builderbobftw , February 26, 2010 10:23 PM
    I wonder what he was doing? *Snicker*
  • -7 Hide
    False_Dmitry_II , February 26, 2010 10:36 PM
    ezodagromWhen they're checking what the students do AT HOME, something is definitely wrong.


    Sure, but those all looked like not at home to me. You'd go use a real fracking mirror otherwise.
  • 22 Hide
    False_Dmitry_II , February 26, 2010 10:38 PM
    This means that you're telling me that it isn't just one, but MULTIPLE schools putting MACBOOKS on the PUBLIC BUDGET?!

    That's starting to make me angry instead of just thinking it's a huge joke.
  • 1 Hide
    Sicundercover , February 26, 2010 10:50 PM
    Alex Jones was talking about this going into effect last year and everyone said he was nuts.
  • 8 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , February 26, 2010 10:58 PM
    Most of it is old news. There were previous reports about it. I want to know what was in the fine print when the laptops were issued to the students? Did parents have to sign anything? Lots of missing information.
  • 8 Hide
    Mousemonkey , February 26, 2010 11:18 PM
    Quote:
    Most of it is old news. There were previous reports about it. I want to know what was in the fine print when the laptops were issued to the students? Did parents have to sign anything? Lots of missing information.

    It seems they 'forgot' to mention it to the parents.

    Quote:
    "I think the school district admits in its own press releases that it was wrong, it shouldn't have been doing this, certainly without some notice, consent, informed consent of the parents that this was something that could be done," attorney Mark Haltzman told KYW News Radio.


    Source
  • 0 Hide
    warmon6 , February 26, 2010 11:24 PM
    all these reports about activating camera's remotely just want me to cover the camera with duck tape until im ready to use it. :lol: 
  • -2 Hide
    wenty , February 26, 2010 11:32 PM
    1984 people...... Wake up! Watch the movie if you have not seen it.

    This is the future.
  • 4 Hide
    ravewulf , February 26, 2010 11:39 PM
    False_Dmitry_IIThis means that you're telling me that it isn't just one, but MULTIPLE schools putting MACBOOKS on the PUBLIC BUDGET?!That's starting to make me angry instead of just thinking it's a huge joke.

    Meanwhile the high school I graduated from 2 years ago *just* upgraded from Windows 98 to Windows 2000 in back 2006. That and the hardware was for the most part exactly the same (computers from 1998 or earlier)
  • 5 Hide
    thedreadfather , February 27, 2010 12:28 AM
    False_Dmitry_IIThis means that you're telling me that it isn't just one, but MULTIPLE schools putting MACBOOKS on the PUBLIC BUDGET?!That's starting to make me angry instead of just thinking it's a huge joke.

    At one point my high school ditched the XP based computers (they were showing age) for brand new MacBooks (identical to the ones in the Frontline story) and iMacs all over the school. I thought (and still think) it was silly that they 1) changed their ENTIRE infrastructure to be based on OS X from WinXP, 2) spent obscene amounts of money on the computers, 3) bought computers that were incompatible with ~90-98% of the school's population, and 4) we typically used Citrix to run XP on the computers anyway. Why would you buy MacBooks to run XP?

    I remember the army of "Geniuses" who spent their day setting up all of the MacBooks and the hilarity of the teachers when they complained about how slow the computers were (with the whole dock lit up like a Christmas Tree). It was just a big pain for everyone because just when the faculty got used to using their Windows-based laptops, the district thrust them into MacBooks.

    This district is not the first, nor the last, to buy MacBooks for their schools.
  • 0 Hide
    4trees , February 27, 2010 12:39 AM
    School officials observing students through webcams is a privacy violation, IF they didn't sign a waiver acknowledging this would be done. Seems like a high court decision is in the future on this.

    Increased tech in schools is essential to future education. Yes tax payers are going to gripe about it but the advantages of this exceed the cost. Education=prosperity/health=better living.

    I dont particularly like the way Marcus Yam quoted Vice Principal Ackerman. I think his intentions in the video by taking pics of the students was not as voyeuristic as Yam made it out to be. Regardless his taking pics seems unnecessary when he could send an IM telling the kids to stop inappropriate use of the computer.

    The webcams should be removed especially if they aren't directly useful from an education perspective. Why not put tape over it?
  • -1 Hide
    Zinosys , February 27, 2010 1:31 AM
    This is a simple problem. Put a square inch of gaffer's tape over the camera. Done.

    As far as the news story, the parents' case is getting so much stronger, the school might as well give in.
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