Shielding campus from false tracking rumors


Recently, rumors regarding the Wilkes Shield app have been circling campus, detailing that the app is tracking students’ locations. The rumor is urging students to leave their phones behind, which presents more than one dangerous concern.

The app contains the COVID-19 self- assessment, alongside many other beneficial features, and the university has been pushing use of the app. In the Colonels Combat COVID guide book, the university identifies the Wilkes Shield app as a free public safety app, which will have users carry out a short questionnaire to help monitor their health and potential exposure to the virus.

An important note in the Colonels Combat COVID guide is that the Wilkes Shield app does not collect personal data: “Personal information is not captured or recorded by the University and results remain private.”

Statements like these are important because they address potential concerns before they may arise, including the tracking rumor.

Students should know the app is not tracking their location.

On Sept. 8, the Wilkes University Police Department released a statement to the student body by email, in which students were encouraged to download the Wilkes Shield app.

“We are happy to report that over 600 community members utilize the Wilkes Shield public safety app each day to assess their wellness – a solid number, but one that we’d like to see increased as COVID numbers have risen since the start of the semester. Please consider downloading and using this free app as a daily reminder to assess your health before coming to campus.”

Wilkes University Police Department Chief Christopher Jagoe explained the only case when a student’s location would be tracked.

“To be clear, the app does not track users unless they have activated the emergency button to summon first responders via the 911 center,” said Jagoe. “In such a case, the app uses GPS coordinates to provide the general location of the user to assist in the response (particularly if the person cannot speak) and can show the movement of the user.

“Once the event has ended, the call for service is closed out, and the app no longer tracks the person’s position. We do not (and could not) require the campus community to download or use the app. This is simply a free service provided by the campus.”

Students also can let their friends track their locations using the app’s FriendWatch feature. FriendWatch allows a user to designate a friend from their contacts to give access to their current location until the user feels safe. This is meant for a student who has to walk somewhere late at night or maybe has gone for a walk and doesn’t feel safe.

With FriendWatch, users can inform a friend that they do not feel safe, and if they were to stop moving for an extended period of time, their designated contact would know something is wrong.

Again, this feature does not give any notice to the University Police Department, nor does it save any information about the user’s location. After the user designates they are safe, the app stops sending information about their location.

There are two dangers to rumors about an app like this. The first is paired with the rumor reporting that underclassmen were being told to leave their phones behind when going out.

Lindsay Becker, president of It’s On Us and senior criminology major who uses the Wilkes Shield app in case of an emergency or in case she sees a violation, expressed concerns with students going out without their phones, especially to events like parties.

“It’s extremely irresponsible, apart from the fact that they are endangering others by possibly spreading a deadly disease, but it is dangerous for themselves as well. What happens when a freshman gets separated from friends and lost? There are a million and one things that can happen. People don’t think bad things will happen to them, but it happens,” said Becker.

Becker also identified that the app allows for easy reporting. Through the iReport feature, students can report not just incidents like abuse, assault and other crimes, but they are also able to report power outages, maintenance issues and violations of the COVID-19 policies.

For students who are still worried about bringing their phone places with an app like the Wilkes Shield app, Jagoe emphasized that there was nothing to worry about.

“The decision to have a phone in your possession at all times is purely a personal one. Having their phone allows them to make calls if they need assistance or receive emergency texts if there is an imminent threat to the campus, such as a crime of violence,” said Jagoe. “As discussed, the Wilkes Shield app does not track the location of its users in the same manner some phones do for COVID exposure.”

The idea Jagoe is referring to is that other apps, like party apps, already track locations by enabling their users to receive alerts that people are in their area. In addition, Google and Apple do similar things with their COVID-19 tracking apps that let those with the virus notify others around them that they have it.

The Wilkes Shield app does not track users’ locations; instead, it does give them a variety of tools to stay safe, whether that be from crime, hazards or COVID-19.