Another Case of MacBook-based Spying on Students? Maybe Not

Earlier this week, an investigation involving a Pennsylvania school where staffers may have remotely used Apple laptops to spy on their students made headlines. Now, an assistant principal at a middle school in the Bronx may have unintentionally revealed that the first incident wasn't entirely an isolated one.

Dan Ackerman, from Intermediate School 339, casually--and perhaps, even giddily--mentioned during a PBS Frontline interview earlier this month that he could use school-provided student MacBooks to keep an eye on the kids. As Gizmodo quotes him, Ackerman says:

A lot of kids are just on it to check their hair, check their makeup: the girls... They don't even realize that we are watching. I always like to mess with them and take a picture.

Scandalous as that quotation may sound, the Bronx school incident may not be as close to the Pennsylvania scandal as it seems at first blush. Mr. Ackerman's seemingly unseemly behavior in fact differs pretty dramatically from what allegedly happened at the Lower Merion school district: At the Bronx school, the student laptops stay in the school building. And the iSight cameras here aren't triggered remotely, either.

Rather, Mr. Ackerman monitors student usage by checking in on students' screens, likely using common administration software such as Apple Remote Desktop; he can only see what's in front of an iSight camera if Photo Booth or other software that activates the camera is in use.

When a computer is on school grounds and meant for student use, occasional desktop monitoring certainly seems not only permissible, but in fact prudent and appropriate. If the App Store is any guide, it's a scary, adult-content-laden Internet out there, and it makes sense for administrators to know what's happening on their students' laptops.

In my view, that's a world apart from the story of the alleged remotely-enabled iSight spying on students in their homes--which is undeniably creepy.

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