Students Rebel Against Heat-Sensing Crotch Monitor Surveillance Devices

Surveillance has become a ubiquitous part of modern life. Public spaces are dotted with CCTV cameras inside and out. Recent years have seen the technology spread to the suburbs with porch cameras spreading the eye of big tech and law enforcement ever further.

Outside of mere cameras, companies are rushing to develop all manner of new devices to surveil individuals, too. One such device intended to track students quickly drew the ire of scholars at Northeastern University, and the cohort fought back.

Are You There?

The devices in question were part of an “occupancy monitoring system” developed by Spaceti, a company which specializes in maximizing efficiency for commercial buildings. The university installed a series of heat sensors under desks aimed roughly at crotch height, intended to detect when a human (or other suitably warm object) was sitting at a desk.

Notably, the sensors were installed overnight without notifying affected students, and without their consent. This happened in Northeastern University’s  Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Complex (ISEC), home to the Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute. As you might expect, graduate students working in this field are keenly attuned to spotting aberrant hardware that mysteriously shows up overnight. They were also rather perturbed to learn they were suddenly being surveilled.

The matter was quickly taken up with university administration, which indicated the sensors were to be used for a study on desk utilization in the facility. Following explanations and meetings held with the student body did little to assuage concerns around the new technology. Revelations that the university had not sought ethics approval for the study caused outrage, as did the sudden surprise arrival of the sensors themselves. Administrators attempted to make a case that the study did not need ethics approval, as the sensors tracked “heat” rather than humans. The excuse held little water among the security-aware graduate students at the university.

Sensors were removed en masse, with several assembled into a large “NO!” sign in the building lobby. Others were hacked by researchers at the university, or simply discarded. The student base shortly submitted an open letter asking for the sensors to be removed permanently. The basis was that the sensors were intimidating to students and installed without proper approval from the university’s ethical review board. Further questions were raised over the necessity of the sensors, given the university could already monitor usage of facilities via its swipe card access control system. Eventually, the university relented, and the sensors were removed.

Desk sensors have often been cited as a key tool to improve office efficiency in terms of spatial use and environmental control. However, the technology has regularly come under fire from the public, as shown by this statement from OccupEye in 2016. Credit: Machine, March 05 2016

It’s not the first time desk occupancy sensors have drawn the ire of those they intend to surveil. In 2016, The Daily Telegraph installed similar sensors from OccupEye under the desks of its journalists, advertising, and commercial staff. Deploying surveillance equipment against security researchers could be said to be foolhardy, given they’lll likely hack and dismantle it. Similarly, deploying it against journalists was always going to end up causing a very public stir. And it did! Backlash was swift, with the story quickly making headlines in several outlets. The sensors were removed in short order after that.

Both stories highlight an interesting point. Few rail against the pervasive CCTV that is present in almost every workplace today. If so desired, most employers could readily track their staff’s every movement via recorded video. However, it seems there is something that humans find uniquely perverse and offensive about under-desk sensors. The idea of a “watching” device lurking in the vicinity of one’s crotch is distinctly unwelcome to most. This is even despite the fact that such sensors merely detect presence rather than recording any visual data.

There’s also a very personal angle to the data collected. A CCTV system may record what employees do, but it typically requires a lot of personal human attention to actually use such a system to follow one person and record their activities. In contrast, a network of desk occupancy sensors can very easily record and log the comings and goings of each individual employee. This data could then readily be used for disciplinary purposes or to rank employees for their so-called “dedication” to the company.

There’s also something to be said for proximity. We largely accept the CCTV cameras that live up in the corners of the ceiling, barely giving them a passing thought. Put a surveillance camera on every worker’s desk, though, and you could expect a revolt before you were done running the cabling.

Overall, the story from Northeastern University should serve as a cautionary tale for any companies or administrators involved in such rollouts. People don’t like being watched, and they really don’t like sensors aimed directly at the groin. They find it even more offensive when such sensors are installed without their knowledge or permission. A public consultation would likely have revealed these issues up front, and saved the university a great deal of money, embarrassment, and frustration. After all, doing unwelcome things by stealth only tends to inflame people’s anger further.






180 thoughts on “Students Rebel Against Heat-Sensing Crotch Monitor Surveillance Devices

  1. Is this April 1st ?
    News for y’all, the horse named “expectation-of-privacy” already left the barn a long time ago.
    When folks *willingly* and in fact *demand* certain “modern conveniences”, one looks at the calendar and wonders if Mr Orwell was prescient in his predictions.

    Years ago, there used to be an occupation called TSCM. Firms would sweep rooms for “bugs”.

    Nowadays, no need. All in plain sight. Alexa, Siri, Smart TV’s, geo-tracking, etc.
    And again, all personal data *willingly* offered up – and if you protest you’re labeled a relic, or worse “boomer”.

    All driven by greed. Consumers want “convenience”, business is more than willing to oblige in the name of making a buck (after all, it’s what separates us from the animals).

    So these whiners have no credibility complaining.
    University should’ve channeled Rube Goldberg and installed whoppee cushions and microphones instead.

    1. Funny, These “whiners” got the intrusive sensors removed. You choose to lick boots and take whatevers given while your bent over. Others see the same things as you, take action and STAND UP against them.

      1. Should have told the kids that the monitors were checking for “cultural appropiation” or that they had color sensors to ensure that each class was sufficiently diverse.

        That would have shut them up.

          1. Didn’t sound like he cared about race as much as he cared about those crying constantly over anything and everything. He simply referenced one of those circumstances. This “it’s a crotch monitor!” Vs reality being an automated attendance taker is the perfect example which he extrapolated to another popular subject(the most popular behind/beside sexual preference).

          2. “Didn’t sound like he cared about race” – Yes, it absolutely did. And he also took a shot at literally everyone who speaks out against the despicable arrogance of big and powerful organizations who hurt individuals out of pure sadism (i.e. just because they can). I bet that he’d use a completely different tone if his trailer wagon was bugged….

      2. The point is, it’s a little too late to cross your legs when your pants are already wet.

        Protesting against individual instances of privacy intrusion doesn’t accomplish anything, because it’s already the norm. Your phone tracks you, there’s cameras everywhere, automatic license plate recognition, mandatory GPS tracking in vehicles, face recognition, not to mention what happens with your online behavior or your credit card… the fact that someone might measure the heat signature of your crotch is completely meaningless when you can’t walk a yard outside without being actively spied on anyhow.

        Something more fundamental needs to change.

        1. The French.

          People here will know I’m not generally a fan, but when they introduced speed cameras in France something like 80% were burned in the first 6 months.

          We should be more like the French in that one respect. Keep showering though.

          1. Some of the stupidest French* mon bon Monsieur, and that was and still is a stupid move : who pays for the speed cameras ? When it’s soooo simple not to exceed speed limits.

      3. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But if they do, it is because they have chosen to trade certtaim privacy for a service.

        In this case it has been imposed on them without a dialogue nor a compensation.

        1. Illusion of choice. We live in a world where you can’t even pay your rent without a biometric ID and a gmail account to access your bank account online. Not accepting the loss of privacy means becoming a complete recluse.

          An old joke goes, Mussolini, Churchill and Stalin were competing who was the more influential leader. The challenge was to get a cat to eat mustard of its own accord. Mussolini tried to intimidate the cat, no success. Churchill tried to praise the cat, no luck. Stalin grabbed the cat and smeared the mustard on it’s anus – the cat yowled in pain and ran under the table to lick it off.

      4. Apparently you really don’t get it, do you? The difference is that with the intrusive apps the users have (mostly) AGREED to the terms and have willingly given the apps the permissions whereas in the case above NONE of the monitored students have agreed to anything and have been informed about this either.

        1. Even if people already signed up for Facebook aiming a “heat sensor” for “productivity” reasons isn’t going to silver line the fact that you’re collecting heat signatures from people’s private parts. They could’ve added webcams built into screens or something more discrete but straight up beeping machines aimed at your groin suddenly appearing out of nowhere seems kinda what detonated the uprising here.

          I’m just saying, people behave quite different when they know they’re being watched

          1. “people behave quite different when they know they’re being watched” – Yeah, the first week. Then once they realize that the results of said monitoring are factored in during performance reviews they’ll start quitting in droves. In fact I could give you like a handful of countries where they DID try various degrees of state surveillance and somehow it always failed to bring about the “expected” results.

    2. And you seem to think that all ‘consumers’ have a common conscious. It’s hard to make change as individuals, especially when people like you think these issues are a lost cause to begin with. The whole ‘ “We should improve in society somewhat” “Yet you partake in society” ” comes to mind. You would attack a groups choice of fighting privacy incursion, further enforcing it in the process? It makes no sense. This is a win for these people and similar protest should be encouraged. If you yourself desire change then maybe you should partake or, at least, not bash those like-minded.

      1. Stomping on embers while the whole forest is burning around you. Celebrating these “activists” as heroes is just unwarranted hype that lets people pretend something is being done about the matter, so they don’t have to.

      1. And some pervy female instructors will check the device to determine which cute young guy has more of a “reaction” to the acrobatic displays of her goods. Thus giving her a ready, willing, and aroused list of young male STUDents to exploit.

        What? Did you forget that females are as exploitative as males? The difference is that males are less likely to report dalliances with females with a power imbalance over them—or under them.

      1. Google pay is pretty insidious.

        It “protects your privacy” by routing your payment through a temporary anonymized bank account, so the business receiving the payment can’t track who’s buying what. Only Google knows – so they then sell the information to the businesses.

    3. You already have the right to remove all tracking data from all companies, and you have the right to disable all active listening from any device.
      It is a legitimate legal right that you have, companies are not allowed to track you without your consent.

      These rights came to you from protests like these. Excatly like these. In a day and age where it is nearly impossible to get a job without a cell phone and internet people protested the Orwelling tracking and won thier case.
      Sentiments like yours are needlessly defeatist, and clearly poorly thought through.

      So let’s break it down, to the root of what you missed, and frankly what powerful people want you to miss;
      And that is all positions of power are granted by the consent of those who are subject to the power. Those in power make it difficult to refuse consent, make it hard to remove them from power, but every single one of them can be removed from power or reduced in power by the actions of those beneath them.
      Want all the “evils” of the modern world to burn, all the corrupt buisnessmen/women to be as penniless as thier actucal contributions to your life is; and all the corrupt politicians to leave? Don’t speak with your vote, trade with labor receipts instead of money.
      Go ahead think that through. Smarter men and women then I already have. No value added gains (rich via corruption) can be made impossible, and labor receipts cannot be made illegal via any practical means without outlawing common currency.
      And if your curious the issues of social responsibilities and securities, as well as ensuring value is always added; you democratize the issue of labor receipts by giving everyone blank labor cheques with thier name or a number attached to thier name date of birth and birth location on it, then as the checques become used they gain value because you write what the labor was for on it, and that value will change depending on the value of who you are spending the receipt on, eventually being spent on getting new cheques at a reduction of exchange so as not to cause inflation after the first five years.

      Write that down. It is the evolution of the system George Orwell himself volunteered to fight for in Spain. It was his ideal utopia.

      Think about how such a system can take place, and take root. Say via a hobby and food trade network.
      And what such a system would imply for laws, power, and value. Think about all the laws that would make no sense if your labor cheques lost value because of what you did to get them.

      It’s inconvenient compared to modernity, but because of modernity its not much less convenient than using a debit card.

      Yes some choose to live in a fish bowl for convenience; however something tells me only the most brain dead of students who are studying cyber security would be among those who do, and frankly, you are choosing to live under increasingly Orwellian conditions simply by refusing to work on implementing the rest of his ideals, and fighting against the encroachment of these companies.

      1. ‘Lorretta has the right to have babies…even though she actually can’t, not having a womb. Which is nobodies fault, not even the Romans.’

        How’s that spywear free smart phone working for you?

        Stop pushing people give the worst idea of the 19th century another try. Answer is HELL NO.

          1. It’s from the ‘transphobic’ classic, Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

            James was spouting off about ‘rights’ he was inventing on the spot, like the Judian people’s front.

            Things you do in public, are public. They will be tracked.

          2. “Things you do in public, are public.” – …which totally does NOT apply here even in the slightest. No, a classroom is NOT a public space as in random strangers just can’t walk into one.

      2. My brother James, if you want to have success in being understood, try to use less words and be more concise. And avoid wooden language. You wrote a whole book here but no one will understand what is your point. Maybe you are very smart. In that case your test is to find a way of conveying and translating your thoughts for the common people. Try one more time, this time for our level of understanding. Good luck!

        1. I agree, James might just be spitting into the wind. Anyone with a higher than 8th grade education should be able to read this. No need to dumb it down. Just slow down, wait till the cannabis effect wears off, read each phrase, 2-3 times if necessary. Wrap your head around it. If you can read the Dec of Independence you can read this. Democracy is not for ignoramuses.

      3. >It is a legitimate legal right that you have

        And you have no way of knowing whether it is being honored, and you’re constantly bombarded with “consent” forms and boilerplate contracts that sell your soul just to read the daily news. You don’t even know where your information is and who is collecting it, so you can’t chase the people responsible to demand your rights – and disabling tracking from your phone means you can’t use the services you bought the phone for, such as installing a bus card app, which requires Google Play on a non-rooted phone for “security”.

        Google’s “do not track me” opt-out is to install a personally identifiable tracking cookie that tells Google not to track you…

      4. Your first 2 paragraphs are complete bullshit! If you own a smartphone running android or ios, the moment you setup the phone and agree to both companies extorted terms, you are now and forever tracked, peeped upon, and monitored. For if you choose not to agree to their illegal terms, then congrats you just bought a $1800 Apple paperweight. And lets say you agree to their terms, but then later change your mind. Oh, that’s too bad because you already said yes.

        Now the moment you jump online, the tracking begins, despite all the settings in your browser saying no no, I do not want to be tracked. Lol, they dont care because try proving it in a court of law. Good luck!

    4. Your opinion about the opinions of others is refuted just as easily with a contrary opinion. And this post mentions the contrary opinions of dozens of students.

      You’re looking a request for privacy in the eye and saying it doesn’t exist. What side are you on?

      1. Those little money grubbing Goblins deserve more than just bad publicity.
        Most of those vermin either don’t care or will pay someone to expunge their name from all related records.

        1. “…will pay someone to expunge their name from all related records.” – That’s not quite how things work in democracies. Yes, articles can be looked up and new articles can be written about such rotten individuals (case in point: Elon Musk) literally anytime. And believe me, their reputation haunting them wherever they go is sometimes more than enough and better than any kind of punishment the government could create.

    1. Our conference rooms used to (? not sure if they still do) have motion detectors. If within 10 minutes of your reservation start time it hadn’t activated, you got an email asking if you still needed the room. Problem was, in larger rooms, or rooms with few people who gathered early and didn’t move a lot, the sensors didn’t detect the people in the room.

      1. Good. It would t cancel it early for 1 and those morons who book a 20 person conference room for 4 people deserve to have the room cancelled on them. “but it was the only one with a projector!” “For you and 3 people watching?”

    1. The only people subject to HIPAA violation laws are medical professionals with access to your private medical data, the staff that maintains those records, labs and related medical testing facilities, and insurance companies using the data to pay for the services.

      If your cousin is an RN who works in AK while you live in VA, so she has no professional access to your protected data through her job, she may talk about everything she knows about your health that you shared with Aunt Martha and Grandma. (My opinion is that no medical professional should discuss anything with anyone, but that is not the law.)

      HIPAA is not a blanket guarantee that nobody can ever discuss another’s health with someone else. Of course, reading the law would tell people that, but they prefer to get their information through what they hear from the least educated.

  2. How long before companies allowing remote work try to install similar devices at the home office in attempt to determine which hours and how many are worked? George Orwell anyone?

    1. Remote employee monitoring systems are a growth industry at the moment. I’ve read a couple articles now where very qualified professionals have turned down “dream jobs” over invasive boss-ware requirements.

      Personally I blame disaffected middle managers who can no longer justify their position and are clamoring for a way to stay relevant. So, now instead of making the rounds of the cubicle farm to micromanage otherwise productive employees, they can do so from their phone while maintaining the pretense of legitimacy.

      Cops and social workers need body cams, not code monkeys.

      1. “I’ve read a couple articles now where very qualified professionals have turned down “dream jobs” over invasive boss-ware requirements.” – The old adage still applies: if something seems too good to be true then it most likely is.

        1. I’m a construction worker and I refuse to use my personal phone to track my hours, location and be my company communication device. I am currently unemployed. Guess it’s time for law school.

          1. Somehow I doubt that construction works that require the use of one’s personal phone for time tracking and being used as company communication devices count as “dream jobs”. In fact I think that in the construction industry those things are just the icing on the cake.

      2. Right now the clueless bosses are all claiming their employees are ‘productive at home’.
        I don’t know how they would know…and I know that most people don’t have the self discipline to be productive at home.
        But now the clock watching managers have put themselves on the record, so I don’t see how it’s going to resolve without a lot of loss of face.
        I’m not talking about asshole bosses that micromanage productive employees, I’m talking about asshole employees that won’t do any work unless micromanaged. They’ve had a hell of a run.

        There will be firings, hopefully that will include the managers that manage staff for looking busy. Then again, they were shit managers in the office, they’re shit managers of remote workers. How much work did the assholes actually do? They just looked busy at best.

        I’ve worked with a number of net negative workers, the busier they looked the more work they made for others to fix (Brahman are the worst, never hire ‘born rich’ of any ethnicity).
        I’ve never been that worried about 4-5% unemployment, more worried about the 20% of useless air thieves that did have jobs.
        But thinking the unemployed are all air thieves is just wishful thinking. Air thieves are like herpes, just try to get rid of one and you’ll see. Here the best outcome is they get a state job, then are transferred to ‘general services’…General services is a full block six story building off Broadway in Sacramento where state employees that can’t be fired are transferred to. So they will be out of the way while collecting pay for 20 years. Going out to lunch anywhere near there is a clown show.

        As to crotch monitors, I always get a yellow crotch alert going through TSA backscatter radar. Looking at their monitor, show’s if little HaHa is hanging to the left/right or center. I should ask for numbers from the female TSA guards, they’re often smirking while doing the body scan.

        As to my productivity…compiling!

        1. There’s actually a really easy way to know if your employees are being productive at home: are they producing work? If yes, they’re being productive, if no, well, sucks to suck I guess.

          1. But that would require middle managers knowing what their employees actually do and what their department actually does. It’s a lot easier to walk around the cubes checking that everyone hits their boss key quickly enough and then go back to your office and play Candy Crush.

          2. A lot of “work” is difficult to measure in terms of productivity, because a) it isn’t actually productive, b) it’s ‘yak shaving’ work that enables other work, or c) it’s creative/research work that sometimes produces results and other times just not.

            Then, whatever you measure becomes a poor metric for productivity. For example, if you measure how many emails an employee answers in a day, they start bombarding each other with emails.

      3. If you need technology like this to work out if your employees are being productive or not you’re an incompetent manager and should be first against the wall.

        I realise some expectation of hours worked is a reasonable *baseline* for an employment contract but some of the most productive workers could goof off for half the day and still get more than enough done while others will warm the seat non-stop for full their hours plus some and have contributed nothing of value or even pulled the whole team/company backwards.

      4. Yes, office workers should have a tangible “output” that already can be measured.

        But also keep in mind that half the “office “workers” are playing Doom ibnstead of updating speadsheets (or visiting Hackaday)

        1. And at least half of “office work” is not actually productive work in the first place – such as thinking up clickbait article titles for ad-farming websites. Those workers not working is a boon to the economy because the company becomes less effective at cheating away other people’s money.

    2. I had a remote job interview where they asked if they could install surveillance on my computer.
      I said no, but I’d prove I’m working by regularly submitting work of good quality and keeping my task lists updated.

      Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the job. That was OK with me. But it makes me scared for the people with financial difficulties who’d feel they have to say yes.

      1. Well, they asked if they could put surveillance software on your computer. Much worse is when they don’t ask and you install a surveillance software anyway unknowingly. Today’s bosses expect us to do the work for three. If you are competent, they’ll just give you more work to do.

        1. “Much worse is when they don’t ask and you install a surveillance software anyway unknowingly.” – In quite a few jurisdictions (particularly in Europe) that’s highly illegal and could get them landed in jail. I guess that’s why those bastards have asked if they could do it.

      1. There are sensors that can, they are used in buses. They have problems when there are many people at once, but that is unlikely to happen often in an office, and you can compensate with other means, for example measuring CO2 concentration as a proxy for approximate occupancy.

    1. > “…the university could already monitor usage of facilities via its swipe card access control system.”

      So they were already doing that. Not sure exactly what they hoped to gain with additional sensors.

      1. They were not using the system for monitoring, they were verifying, and user testing it for the manufacture. This was a source of revenue, and maybe research or apprentice positions for students. The pervasive monitoring in place made verification easer as they could compare the results of the existing system with the new one.

        1. Heck yeah. If they put a scale, tachometers on the wheels and seat. You could see how many feet the chair has traveled and how fast with x amount of weightt and probably extrapolation g-force. Office jousting anyone?

          I see no negative outputs to this info. Only useful or funny data that you must find out what the anomalies are.

      1. So, then what was the real issue? My understanding is they simply detect the presence of a body in the seat. No exactly who, but if you have assigned seats I can see how students that ‘skip class’ might be offended.

        The headline makes its seem like x-ray images of you gentials are posted online for the entire world to give a numeric score to.

        Reminds me of the recent NYU professor of Organic Chemestry that was fired becease he graded too hard. Part of his defesne was that a large numer of those who failed or did poorly missed a lot of class.

        I guess what a large numer of us have problems with is student post almost ebverything about themselves on line, and then worry about a seat sensor. Or think a vaccine passport and a social credit score is just wonderful.

  3. As a recovering academic, it has always amazed me that universities hire and enroll the best and brightest and then expect them to submit quietly to this sort of grotesquely inane buffoonery and ex post facto authoritarian backpedaling and gaslighting.

    It’s a pity that Albert Einstein (who probably never said human stupidity was infinite) and C. Northcote Parkinson (who certainly said that bureaucracies expand to consume all available resources) never collaborated – imagine the eternal principles (beyond Pournelle’s Iron Law) that they might have revealed.

    1. Also recovering from academia – Over the years, my anecdotal experience was that my immediate “supervisors/managers” seemed to be exquisite examples of the Peter Principle. Though my teaching experience was in Nursing, I swear the mangerial models were based on the British comedy The IT Crowd.

      1. I remember how during my 3rd year at the university I stole a toilet seat. I wanted to cover it with two-sided tape and then glue it to “no parking” sign near my crib. Only a week later I realized that the backpack I use to carry food and books daily was also used to carry sticky toilet seat. Luckily I didn’t get HIV or WZW-C.

    2. >As a recovering academic, it has always amazed me that universities hire and enroll the best and brightest and then expect them to submit quietly to this sort of grotesquely inane buffoonery and ex post facto authoritarian backpedaling and gaslighting.

      It’s not a surprise at all if you understand the actual purpose of universities: domesticating intelligent minds and excluding those unable to be domesticated from the high-level workforce. College is a four-to-eight year hazing ritual and soul removal operation to ensure that no geniuses become threats to the state.

      1. Unlike primary/secondary education, you get out of higher education what you put into it. If you look for critical thinking and pursuit of knowledge and skills, that’s what you get. If you just want a new boot to lick whilst it spoonfeeds you specific factoids purely to pass a confirmation-of-reception test at the end, then that’s what you get. Just because you pursued the latter, that does not mean it’s what everyone gets out of university.

    3. Best and brightest?

      Who told you that?

      Campus politics dominate. Publications are counted, not read. There might be some programs that enroll the best and brightest, but only the most tolerant of politics make a campus a lifetime home.

      The ones who objected to this monitoring will never get tenure.

    4. “universities hire and enroll the best and brightest”

      While you were in Academia, you may have missed the old saying;
      “Those that “can”, do!
      Those that “can’t”, teach!”

      1. Those that can’t teach, administrate/library.

        Also: Farnsworth: ‘Of course I can’t teach, I’m a professor.’

        Also also: Ed schools, those that can’t do (teach), teach teaching.

  4. Surely that system is excessively expensive for what it is marketed to do, unless every desk has individualized climate control built in.

    If it was truly for heating and cooling the room, then they only need to know one thing, is the room occupied or not. This could be done with a single thermal sensor that can see the room, or even a simple motion sensor like many lights use. Then, add a handful of air temperature sensors to make sure the air actually stays the temperature that’s desired.

    The most they could try to justify is that knowing the count of people in the room helps predict temperature, but, there’s too many unknowns like windows + sunlight, open doors, laptops, etc.

    It seems to me that they are trying to get more invasive data, for more a more invasive reason than they are saying.

    1. It was to detect desk efficiency, aka how many butts were in seats during a class period or something. The temperature aspect was just to locally check the area immediately under the desk to see if it was ambient temp or if there was a heat signature present, aka a human. Very expensive way to do people counting imo

      1. Cost-wise this actually looks like it might be pretty efficient. It looks like those might be standard PIR motion sensors (which indeed work on the principle of temperature measurement) – they cost pennies and they draw very little power. With LoRa or some other low-power radio protocol, I’m sure these can last for months on a charge. I think the only way to go cheaper might be some computer vision thing that just needs a single IP camera, but then you’re bringing in complexity.

        1. It’s not that complex. This sounds to me like wedging something extra in the Building Management System that it’s not designed for.

          That aside, those sensors were going to get knocked off and break anyway, I’ve worked with similar in the past.

          Our security product TARGET Active Security Software does this type of thing all day, like many have said, using IP cameras. With data posted to Rabbit MQ / SQL server as needed.

          However, as an ethical company that looks at the whole service offered, you would be informed your GDPR/reasons for the cameras needs updating.

        2. And actual ethics issues, like identifying individuals, tracking location…. PIR sensors are actually a really nice solution as you say, Anton. I just don’t get the outrage, it seems like outrage for the sake of it, which is ever so common these days.

      2. Huh, I guess I misunderstood “efficiency” as being related to HVAC because that’s normally the excuse for this type of surveillance.

        But, what are they going to do with the number “desk efficiency”?

        They can’t (shouldn’t) reduce the number of desks to fewer than the number of students enrolled in a class. And if they don’t already know how many students are enrolled, then, they shouldn’t be a school.

        If they really wish to know how many students are in a specific lecture, they could try having the teacher use a new technique called, “taking roll” aka “roll call”.

  5. They stated that the sensors were mounted under the desk with a temperature sensor pointed at the chair. When a person sits in the chair, the sensor is directly pointed at the person’s crotch.

          1. But they can… and have. This same kind of micromanagement mentality would gladly monitor bathroom use to justify toilet paper inventory or some other arcane justification(it’s been done). This same kind of micromanagement mentality goes so far as to require employees to have RFID transponders injected into them to monitor their movements for similarly mundane justifications(it’s been done).

            The line needs to be drawn somewhere, prophylactically, not after-the-fact.

          2. Mystick, assholes on both sides.

            Asshole managers monitoring bathroom time are a response to asshole employees camping in the toilets to avoid work.

            The only solution is a ‘never hire assholes’ policy.

          3. @ Mystick:
            “This same kind of micromanagement mentality would gladly monitor bathroom use to justify toilet paper inventory or some other arcane justification(it’s been done).”

            Bring back the pay toilet. Problem solved.

      1. Maybe where you are, but for the last 30 years in Europe they’ve been mounted at stomach height, right in front of you while you pee. Since absolutely no-one gives a crap about it there, and they can’t store images, this is just a hilarious over-reaction to a non-problem. Typical of students with insufficient workload.

    1. Uhm no? Read the Twitter posts, the desks were assigned specific people to them. This is like a urinal equipped with a huuge RFID antenna that could read the university badge in your pocket every time you go to take a leak. Would you like that?

      1. You know that attendance is measured in almost every educational institution right? This is a lecture space. It’s exactly the same as taking the register at the start of a session. It’s not the same as measuring toilet usage by any stretch.

        1. Q: Do you know how I know you never progressed beyond first year at college?

          A: Nobody checks attendance past the weed outs. Professors are not middle school teachers. Go ahead and cut class to smoke weed, tests are coming. They don’t check homework either. Adulting is hard.

          1. Not sure how long you have been 9ut of school. The new thing is students paying for a program that assigns random homework and quizzes then spits out a grade, saving the teacher from having to do their job.

    2. Generally, the toilets don’t log the data, but, even if they did, it’s unlikely that that data could be tied to an individual. However, if those two things were true, you can bet that people would be outraged, I know I would be.

    1. We used to have that – with a big board on the front desk – when you went into your office the light went on to show you were there. It wasn’t a problem, in fact it was super handy, for both staff an students who didn’t have to get in the lift and go to the 6th floor to find the lecturer wasn’t there. The only people who complained were those who didn’t want to be forced to be present to talk to students (i.e. do their job).

  6. I don’t understand the objection unless the sensor was an imaging one. A simple heat sensor wouldn’t be able to differentiate from one warm entity to another–let alone tell people apart.

        1. Exactly – these days when students are suing universities when they get bad grades, claiming the tuition is poor (when other students do just fine) it’s amazingly easy to check the attendance registers and line up the gaps in attendance to the lowest grades. It isn’t uncommon for students to claim they’re not “getting what they paid for” when they don’t pass despite never being present.

    1. Because there is no value to the sensing unless you’re after high-resolution surveillance. Universities have a bad habit of abusing graduate students, and this would be an amazing tool for more abuse.

      The comment that IRB was not needed also speaks to a serious failure to understand that IRB requirements are not decided by the person doing the research.

        1. Chair usage would correlate very closely with desk usage, and require nothing more complicated than a strain gauge or a pressure switch. Of course, chairs could be moved from desk to desk, so if that was considered and ruled out, more likely this was intended, stated or not, to monitor individual students’ desk usage. There are probably legitimate reasons in certain settings to know if a specific person is at their specifically assigned desk, but none that come to mind for college students in an open setting.

    2. I would love to know exactly what anyone fears from this. It may be an experiement and is probably not cost justified, but what is everyone so indignant about besides the area being measured? And so what if they logged the data?

      1. My concern would be why was that installed sneakily without informing the people, and having a policy on how the data is stored and used.
        Number of people in a room is a reasonable thing to measure, amount of minutes every person spends at a desk, not so much.

  7. I swear it’s the Anglo-Saxon countries every single time when someone tries to pull off a crap like this! In most parts of Europe any organization (or university administrations) would be in a sea of pain if they even attempted to do this and the case would involve criminal investigation too. Heat-tracking devices attached to name-assigned desks followed by a pathetic attempt at cover-up with a fake story about a “study”? How about having to make a confession at the next police station and then having the prosecutor tell you the potential jail time you could get for doing this? It’d be quite deterring for these sneaky types…

    1. You appear to be lacking an understanding of anglo-saxon, which covers a good chunk of Europe. You also seem to lack experience in European universities, where this sort of thing has been done for decades and the students generally don’t give two hoots. I have worked at a few. It’s also not uncommon for the tech lecture halls to use CCTV for seat occupancy checking. Bluetooth for location tracking and facilities management. PIR for room occupancy for staff.

  8. The next fight will be to prevent programmable digital currencies, if you think a heat sensor, or even an actual camera, under your desk is bad, think how terrible a “monetary” system which knows in-one-place (not separated so the bank only sees the merchant you paid to and how much the total sum cost, and the merchant only sees the money come in, not how much is left in your account…) everything (not just most, but everything incuding the sort of things you use cash to keep anonymous, and including every little payment to/from friends and family…) you buy and is able to turn on and off your ability to spend from algorithmic controls is. A programmable central bank digital currency can be used to punish people without trial for any difference of opinion or personal eccentricities, and in most proposals is also connected to wiping out honest cash so that no monetary system exists with which to make transactions out from under the central bank’s eye-of-sauron. That’s going to be the next rebellion we need, a return to physical cash for all in-person transactions, and for all remote transactions we’ll need something LIKE a cryptocurrency, but which actually works, doesn’t make every coin’s path traceable, is pegged to an average of the dollar/euro/pound, and is still decentralised, tough challenge to work out how that ( a token rather than ledger based decentralised cryptocurrency ) can be done.

    1. Yep, cryptocurrency sucks. GNU Taler on the other hand was designed precisely to handle what you’re talking about. That is, customer transactions are anonymous, only the merchant side is identifiable, and that primarily for tax purposes. Some people have already been working hard on getting this right, we can only hope that the regulatory bodies of nations either use that work directly or draw their inspiration from it.

  9. The simple solution would have been to mount them to the ceiling with a tube over the sensor with the opening pointing down at the seating area at each desk. That would allow you to track occupancy at each desk while not triggering that “all up in people’s junk” outrage.

    I don’t know why you would bother though. Unless you intend to penalize each person based on their desk attendance this is pointless overkill, especially for some they came was to make the heating more efficient.

    Although…. As I’ve been told numerous times, heating is most efficient when set to one temp and left there. Maintaining one temperature is always going to be more energy efficient than adjusting the temperature constantly based on usage. I could see lowering the heat if the lights have been off for, say 24hs, but any interval shorter than that seems like a waste.

    1. Yeah, just down people’s top outrage, which would be equally idiotic given the type of sensor. But it seems they’re complaining more about having their attendance checked, and using the junk-viewing as pure leverage.

  10. I really doubt their main concern is the crotch height.
    I suspect it’s more likely to be the personal nature of the surveillance.
    And not knowing how the data will be used.

    A room camera is surveilling a group, the desk monitor is surveilling you specifically.
    Most likely people would feel the same about a camera in an office cubicle or single person office room.

    Doubly so if there’s assigned seating.

    If the sensors counted how many desks were in use and nothing else (and people trusted it wasn’t tracking anything else) or if it was connected direction the heater or air conditioner, I doubt anyone would care.

    1. My room cameras can identify every person in it, their location and their attendance time. With one camera. They’re complaining about having their attendance checked, the crotch height is just a distraction, but there’s much more invasive methods to do it.

  11. You may be interested in a divice I have built.. It is aa athletic protector with a built in peltier cooler.. Only problem is you need a trolly with a 500 AH battery to power it for the day. :)

  12. These students better get used to it. Every newer office I’ve worked in has overhead lighting that senses if someone is in the cubical it’s lights. And cubical are assigned.

      1. spray an aerosol can towards it like “canned air” used for dusting keyboards. the moving different temp airflow triggers them. can also be used to open automatic security doors with a sensor only on one side if there’s a small gap to poke the nozzle through.

    1. My office has ones that control the lights and cover a large area of floor space including many cubicles, and, as far as I know it does not do two things. 1) doesn’t report usage or store data in any way and 2) is not able to differentiate between one cubicle and another or one person and another.

      If it did both of these things, I’d be very, very against working in that space.

      Also, it’s really lousy at seeing people who are actually sitting at a cubicle working, it mostly relies on people being up and about. During the pandemic, the lights were constantly turning off on people in the office. But I’m still very glad I get to work from home instead.

  13. The worst is all the nonsense… oh, it’s not medical, it’s aimed at your crotch, what if someone puts a camera in it. Sensors are everywhere. There are cameras on every corner. Everyone is walking around with a cell phone, that tracks everything. Then there’s Alexa, Siri and Ok Google, and we have people who are upset about a heat sensor. My favorite are the light sensors in bathrooms that turn the lights off on you mid shit.

  14. Im in favor of outright destruction of tech like this. And normalizing that behavior.

    Ever since I was a teenager I have seen surveillance society come about in America with no end and I remember for a time the people pointing all of it out or laughed at but now it’s everywhere.

    You might laugh and think it’s just a heat sensor but tomorrow it’ll be just something else, and the fact that they did it without any notice or approval and in secret overnight really lends to the argument that they knew it would upset people if they made a point of publicizing it first.

    There’s one reason for all of this it always boils back to convenience. Convenience for someone is the point- all of this surveillance technology in our phones and at desks and in video cameras is all because it’s convenient for someone somewhere to know that information, usually to market to us.

    I would like to normalize people smashing this stuff with a hammer or whatever else is around when they find it if there’s a physical example. I’m sick of feeling surveilled everywhere I go, all because some idiot has to make a buck off of being able to market to me, or make someone else’s job more convenient by surveilling the rest of us.

  15. Hmmmm… Well, I guess it would work. A Crotchometer. But whose idea was this in the Spaceti company? What is the relationship of this company to the University? How much money is involved? Follow the money.

  16. If they’d put them on the ceiling, most people wouldn’t have noticed, and most of those who noticed wouldn’t care. Putting them in a hidden location, pointed at people’s genitals makes it creepy and EVERYONE is going to care. ‘Hey, what’s this camera looking thing pointed up my skirt? You think it’s just the university doing an unannounced, unapproved, unethical research project on unconsenting, unaware students, or something even less savory?’

  17. Gotta fight this sort of thing whenever it starts. You can’t ever let it just become the new norm. I love that they removed them all and relocated them. Reminds me of my first encounter with this sort of bullshit.

    My first nursing job, right out of college, instituted a tracking badge system shortly after I hired on. In theory it was so you could be found in emergencies. It was less than two weeks from startup to the first nurse in a manager’s office being dressed down for an unauthorized bathroom break. Turns out the tracking was a hell of a lot more granular than ‘we need to know which floor you’re on in case you need to be paged’. It tracked time in every single location you visited, and reports could be (and were) printed out daily.

    On the advice of the union, we marched down to the smoke shack where a union rep met us with hammer and nails. Each of us nailed our tracking badge to the wall of the smoke shack and went back to work. The program was discontinued a week later, and eventually the tracking antennas and badges were sold to some other hospital. Goddamn I love it when I have a union.

    1. Aye, its sometimes hard to balance ensuring people are doing their job with overstepping into applying unreasonable limits. But to forego useful tech and genuine benefits is a backward step. The correct step would be ensuring correct policies were put in place regarding the data collection and use, and deletion. That way we have progress, not paranoia. That way we have cars, not horses. That way we have safe employees, not bathroom nazis.

      1. What are they going to delete? You saying I sat in that from x to y. The security camera can see you. You certainly will not be able to get that deleted. EVERY internet supplier knows exactly what websites your house went to and when (unless you VPN and they they know you were hiding where you were going) and you can’t delete that.

        On your computer even when you delete something, it’s still there for quite a while and can be seen again.

        And no one cares that you sat there. Just that someone sat there or the something warm was placed in the chair.
        I’d like this data a step further with a scale and tachometers i could see how much stress each chair was under via distance rolled, spins take and g-force measured when X kg sits, spins and rolls.

  18. It’s always about how these systems are used. A CCTV camera in the corner of an office is there mainly for security, one in every cubicle is there for surveillance. Most people can accept having a security camera in their office but they wouldn’t be happy if someone was sitting there recording the exact times they are at their desk. These desk sensors have a single purpose, to monitor when the desk is used which isn’t a useful set of data to have unless your employees are forced to work. Can you imagine in performance reviews, “you spent an average of 16 minutes a day away from your desk, company policy means that you need to have an average below 15 minutes, therefore you won’t get a pay rise or a bonus.”.

    Micromanaging factories drove automation and efficiency but it also turned people into robots, thankfully some companies have seen that and offer healthier and more flexible working conditions and still manage to get as much work done.

  19. I have one particular concern and that’s the nature of how the information would be used. For example, is it monitoring if I’m present in a class or is it used to keep track of how many seats in a library setting are used? I suppose that the whole crotch level monitoring aspect could be worrisome but if it were just an IR sensor that COULDN’T, for example, potentially be used by hackers or any other party to gauge the temperature of one’s nethers and rather an IR sensor that just recognizes if someone is in front of a space at a table or even in the back cushion of a seat that would be ok. My main concern is why their collecting data to of people in seats when they know how many students they have.

  20. A manager who needs surveillance data to determine if their direct reports are doing their jobs is either lazy or a poor manager. Quality and quantity of work done is what determines a good employee, not percentage of time at desk, number of keystrokes, etc.

    But that would require that the manager knows what good work looks like…

  21. You all know that the sensors don’t identify you, right? A turn stile to count entrances and exits has no idea who you are. “Oh no! A calculator has a history. It can tell that someone added numbers before. That’s an invasion of my privacy!”

    You know camera and audio recording systems are all over in buildings, streets, cars, houses, etc. They, nor I, have to scrub through the videos to find a face, jacket, hat shoes or any combo you like. The computer system does that for us. You just have to walk, sit, run or drive by Karen. We see you and don’t care that we can see what your reading because you are not special and you are not interesting. If you do something to make yourself interesting enough, it’s probably illegal or just plain funny

  22. “A CCTV system may record what employees do, but it typically requires a lot of personal human attention to actually use such a system to follow one person and record their activities.”

    Isn’t computer vision these days powerful enough to handle that sort of task?

    1. Yes. It is. Face recognition mixed with object detection. YOLO v7 anyone? People can do this from there house for free. There are a couple GitHub projects out there that if merged and updated to v7 can track you once your identified.

      A few out there will detect cars with color type and speed. Others detect skeletal motion for hair detection.

      Add them all together. Jeffe was carrying a laptop running, at 6mph, to a red car and drove away, at 30 mph, out the west exit turning right to head north on Gotided Rd at 50mph. 4 cameras cause everything outside. Much more data inside depending on the number of cameras.

      Start adding in a tech like with markerless motion capturing, long range ToF and stereoptic video.

  23. I worked for a famous high tech R&D unit of a large company in the 1990s (hint, the patent company had a single letter stock symbol and the building has starred in the AppleTV series Severance). Management installed motion sensors to control lighting in individual offices. If you were sitting hunched over a computer for long periods the lights would go out. Several enterprising engineers got the glass tube birds that dunk their beaks in a glass of water. Problem solved, the birds kept the lights on. Management was too embarrassed to ban the birds.

  24. Tldr: if you are ragging on anti surveillance people, you’re the reason we have this problem.

    There’s a sad amount of people who are completely okay with your workplace micromanaging you like you’re some sort of robot in these comments. Adding more and more irrelevant metrics to your office space to determine if you are good worker bee is bad. Stop being okay with it.

    “Oh but you get tracked anyways.” Well that’s you’re fault. You being like that is why we have these problems. You sacrificing our privacy for convenience. Convenience for the rich bosses who don’t want to give you a raise.

    We struggle with the government trying to surveil the world, look at Edward Snowden and what he revealed and subsequently had to flee the USA. And then we have complacent people who are fine with their daddy corpo gathering every bit of info they can so they can exploit employees easier.

    This isn’t an individual fight. I can’t do it on my own. It’s stupid to tell someone to live off the grid when, we live in a society, haha. Humans have always been social creatures.

    It’s like when people say the way taxes are used is bad, then someone says go live off grid and don’t have to pay taxes. Like go be homeless.

    Another one that’s more clear but extreme. If everyone that was anti slavery left a place. Slavery remains. We don’t want that.

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