NetRef: A new era of student privacy

LIVING IN 1984? With new surveillance software at school, should students be worried about infringement of privacy? Austin Ashizawa

Robert Schumacher | Writer & Austin Ashizawa | Student Life Editor

September 12, 2021

During the 2020-2021 school year, cheating ran rampant throughout the school due to unrestricted use of technology. This year, although the student body has returned to in-person learning, the computers are staying. But there’s a catch: with new management software, NetRef, school administrators are attempting to put an end to academic dishonesty at the school. 

The app, however, does far more than prevent cheating. The application can see every tab opened, restrict internet access, block specific websites, and lock chromebooks. NetRef’s website describes its product as “a classroom management and monitoring software, ensuring devices are being used for learning.” It allows teachers to view “website activity on any device and shut down distractions.” Although the company’s initial intentions may have been for the best, the question remains: is the software an invasion of privacy? When students at San Clemente High School were asked about the topic, their responses were varied.

“I don’t know what that is,” senior Danny Woodward said. “I don’t think it’s an invasion of privacy because it’s a school chromebook and property of the school,” Woodward responded after learning about the software and its capabilities. A similar sentiment was expressed by senior Max Banks. “[NetRef] is ethical when used on school-issued chromebooks because it’s not our property, we’re merely borrowing the school’s [computers],” Banks said. However, he also explained that “on personal devices on the other hand, NetRef isn’t ethical and shouldn’t be downloaded at all.”

NETREF’S LOGO with their slogan, “Manage. Monitor. Know.”

But it might be too late, as it seems that the school is already able to gain some access to personal devices. Even proponents of NetRef at SCHS are worried about the potential privacy issues that something like this could present.

“For cheating purposes it’s amazing,” SCHS math teacher Mrs. Compean said. “But for the privacy aspect, I think it’s too invasive. Why would I want to see what you are looking at on your [personal] computer?”

Unfortunately, things have the possibility of getting worse. From just a simple Google search, many other students seem to be experiencing worse threats. According to a review by one Google user, SmokeyTube, NetRef allows the teacher to “spy on you like you’re in North Korea.” And the complaints continue to stretch on: “My teachers don’t even use it when we’re at school,” user Bree Crawley said. “They kick us off tabs when we’re at home.”

For now, there are still significant limitations on NetRef. The school can only monitor and access personal devices during school hours if the device is connected to the school’s network and logged into a Capistrano Unified account. These limitations extend to school-issued chromebooks as well. 

NetRef undoubtedly serves an important role in combating extensive cheating and in helping students stay on task, ensuring that they are paying attention in class. Additionally, it is helping keep teachers in the know about what is going on behind the screens. But there comes a point where surveillance is too invasive and the lines are blurred between a student’s right to privacy and the school’s right to monitor device use. As time goes on, this issue is one that the students and staff at SCHS will have to solve themselves. 

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