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Tag: tracking

My Flawed ISTE 2018 Journey Report

Smart badge cracked open

My personalized “ISTE 2018 journey” has arrived. This is the report generated from data gathered by the “smart badge technology” attached to our name badge holder. Data that ISTE said would provide us with a “more personalized learning experience”.

So, what insights and revelations does it reveal about my time in Chicago?

Frankly, not much. The report is simply an HTML email with links to program descriptions for the sessions I attended, plus links to “resources” provided by the presenters.

Except I didn’t attend half the sessions that ISTE’s tracker says I did. I’m very sure I was never in the room for “Amazing Must-Have Google Add-Ons, Tips & Tricks and Features You Never Knew” or “Mining Treasures in CSR: Timely, Curriculum-based. Free!”. No offense intended toward the presenters. Just not topics on my must-see list.

Some stops on my “journey” probably came from dropping into a room long enough to have a quick conversation with the presenter. For others, maybe I lingered too close to the room while tweeting or sending a text. And none of my time spent in the Bloggers’ Cafe or Posters area was recorded, even though ISTE placed their short, black receivers in those areas.

The report also doesn’t indicate whether I stayed for the whole session, only listing the time it was scheduled for. I know I was in a couple of sessions scheduled at the same time but ISTE’s tracker only seems to have captured the first one.1

Another oddity in my report is the list of vendors I visited. According to ISTE, this section was not generated by picking up the Bluetooth signal from the tag, only when my badge was scanned by a vendor.

Except that I never allowed anyone to scan my badge.

I did visit the Google booth a couple of times, primarily to see friends and talk to some members of the Geo Education team. But no one scanned me. For the other nine companies listed, I would have a hard time even telling you what they do just from their name. Maybe they had a device for scanning people as they passed. Certainly would be easy to do.

Anyway, the bottom line is that “Your ISTE 2018 Journey” really doesn’t tell me much. It certainly doesn’t explain what happens to my conference data now that the report has been sent. Will it be deleted or does ISTE plan to use it in other ways? Will it be shared with others outside the organization?

And a few other questions running around my warped brain…

Does the organization plan to use this technology again next year? If so, I wonder if the number of attendees who choose not to wear this “smart technology” (which really isn’t that smart) will spike. Will they be more aware and concerned with being tracked around a large convention center?

Is this technology hackable? At least two people I know wrote posts about being able to “see” the badges around them using a free smartphone app. As far as I know, they were only able to read the name assigned (mine was eventBit_18797) but that’s a first step to digging deeper. And possible misuse.

Maybe we need a pre-conference session on playing with this technology next June. It would be fun to see what could be done with tracking devices during ISTE 2019.


The picture is of my smart badge cracked open. Is there some way to read that chip?

1. I’m one of those annoying people who believes in the rule of two feet. If the presenter isn’t meeting my needs, I will get up and leave. Sorry, but I expect the same action from anyone attending a sessions I’m doing.

Following Your Every Step

Here at the annual ISTE edtech extravaganza, the organization decided to do something different this year. They gave everyone a “smart badge”.

The little unit attached to every badge holder (that’s it above, with some identifying info redacted) broadcasts a Bluetooth signal that is picked up and recorded by the units they have placed throughout the convention center (at the right). The goal is to send everyone a “customized ‘ISTE 2018 Journey’ report shortly after the conference”. A reminder of the sessions you went to and the vendors you visited.

I’m not sure whether to be amused, concerned, or outraged. Or all three.

Ok, maybe this doesn’t rise to the level of outrage. It’s certainly amusing and there are some concerns that should be raised. The biggest one being about how this data (which is being collected for ISTE by a third party) will ultimately be stored, secured, and used.

The FAQ that was discretely linked in one pre-conference message tries to answer some of them, assuring us the tracking data will “not be shared with anyone else regardless of who paid for your registration”. So they won’t be telling your principal that you attended one session and skipped the rest of the conference to see the sights.

There’s been a little discussion of this tracking program since the conference started, but not nearly as much as I expected. Maybe most of ~20,000 attendees trust ISTE to do the right thing. Possibly they just don’t care. More likely, most haven’t really thought about it in the way strange people like me do.

But this is one more example of how electronic tracking of is starting to trickle into mainstream activities. Long after governments and corporations started collecting data on us without any concent whatsoever.

At least at ISTE, we have the option of tearing the unit off the badge and doing something creative with it.

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