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University of Alabama is tracking students to see if they leave football games

University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban has long complained about students leaving Bryant-Denny Stadium before the game has finished.

They might head out because the mercury is pushing 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or maybe the team’s lead is so great that the game is as good as over.

In a bid to keep the students in their seats for longer, the team has just launched a loyalty program that rewards those who stay to the end. But it involves tracking students on their mobiles phones to make sure they’re still inside the stadium.

The New York Times, which first reported the story, described the tracking process as “an extraordinary, Orwellian step,” though Greg Byrne, athletic director at Alabama, said that few students or staff members mentioned privacy concerns when the idea was under discussion.

So, how exactly does it work? Well, to participate in the program, students first have to download the Tide Loyalty Points smartphone app. Attend a home game and the student’s account will be loaded with 100 loyalty points. Stay until the fourth quarter and they’ll receive an additional 250 points. Other points are awarded according to the amount of time a student spends on their studies, and the accrued points can be exchanged for access to the team’s big games.

The app only tracks students while they are inside the stadium in order that their presence can be registered for the loyalty points. Byrne told the Times that if students still have any concerns, they can simply delete the app and download it again the next time they enter the stadium.

FanMaker, the app’s creator, has launched apps for 40 other colleges across the U.S., though only the Alabama app includes location tracking.

As the Times notes in its report, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that Alabama is utilizing tracking technology to try to improve attendance at its games. After all, most big-name online services include tracking technology in their apps to facilitate various features, and anyone with privacy concerns can deactivate location tracking by diving into their phone’s privacy settings. Digital Trends has an article telling you exactly what you need to do.

Byrne also pointed out that if you have a mobile phone, “unless you’re in airplane mode or have it off, the cellular companies know where you are.”

But Adam Schwartz, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was less happy about Alabama’s loyalty program, describing it to the Times as “very alarming,” and adding that it was inappropriate to encourage students to give up their privacy in this way.

Meanwhile, Alabama students had other suggestions for how the team could keep them in the stadium for longer.

“Sell beer,” one said.

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