Oxford Spies on Students Via Facebook

Since it's suddenly all over the media that Oxford University is using Facebook to dig up dirt on students, here's the email that I received from the Oxford University Students Union (OUSU) yesterday:

It has been brought to the attention of the Student Union that the Proctors have been using evidence gathered from Facebook for disciplinary matters. Specifically, photos from Post-Exam Celebrations on Merton Street have been sent to members of the University (including those already finished) as evidence of their being involved in "trashings". As such, we advise those of you with Facebook accounts to alter your privacy settings on Facebook to prohibit members of staff and faculty from viewing your profile and photographs. Instructions are below. While the Student Union does not condone unruly, violent or disorderly behaviour, we believe that the privacy of our members should be protected and that disciplinary procedures at all levels within the University should be fair and transparent.

To prohibit members of Staff and Faculty from viewing your profile:

  1. Log into Facebook.
  2. Click "Privacy" at the top right of the screen.
  3. Click "Profile" in the body of the page.
  4. Under the heading "Select which types of people can see your profile" uncheck "Faculty", "Staff" and "Alumni".

We also urge students to make your profile viewable only to those within the Oxford network by using the "Profile" drop-down menu at the top of the page.

We also urge students to set "Photos tagged of you" and "Videos tagged of you" to "Only My Friends"

While these measures will reduce the number of people who can view your profile, it does not enure complete privacy.

If you have been contacted by the Proctors please let us know either by emailing president@ousu.org or calling 01865 288 450.

Martin McCluskey

OUSU President

Personally, I have enough sense not to put anything on my Facebook profile that I'm not comfortable with the rest of the world seeing. With that said, though, the University of Oxford has clearly gone way too far here.

Seriously, Oxford, lighten up a bit.


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Heck, this even made it to the website of Germany's #1 news magazine. I dunno who to call more crazy, the students who basically boast with their defiance of regulations, or the university which goes to such measures to trace them.

I don't get this.

"we believe that the privacy of our members should be protected"

Why is there any expectation of privacy in Facebook? How is this any different from tacking a photo to a physical bulletin board in a dorm hall? You might not expect university officials to be looking at dorm hall bulletin boards, but it isn't an invasion of privacy if they do.

From the msnbc article: "It's fairly disgraceful and underhand[ed]"

As I read the story, university officials are investigating reported misdemeanors after the fact, not going on a fishing expedition. What's disgraceful or underhanded about that?

"disciplinary procedures at all levels within the University should be fair and transparent."

What's not fair or transparent? Are students not aware of the cameras? Are they being denied a chance to rebut the evidence?

Maybe the university should lighten up. I can accept that. But from my outside perspective I see a university investigating misdemeanors and a student union acting as if the perpetrators are victims of felonies.

I think what annoys the students is that the university is so aggressively enforcing a rule that is stupid. Basically they are being investigated and fined for perfectly legal activities on a public street that the University has made up rules against because it thinks it makes its students look posh and drunk (both of which they are).

The tough part is that someone *else* is free to post a picture of you acting inappropriately, so even those of us with some sense in this regard can't completely protect ourselves.