A funny thing happened on the way to academic integrity. Plagiarism detection software (PDS), like Turnitin, has seized control of student intellectual property. While students who use Turnitin are discouraged from copying other work, the company itself can strip mine and sell student work for profit.
For this bait-and-switch to succeed, Turnitin relies upon the uncritical adoption of their platform by universities, colleges, community colleges, and K12 schools. All institutions that, in theory, have critical thinking as a core value in their educational missions. And yet they are complicit in the abuse of students by corporations like Turnitin.
The internet is increasingly a privately-owned public space. On April 3, 2017, Donald Trump signed into law a bill overturning Obama-era protections for internet users. The new law permits Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to access, without permission, data about our internet use patterns — from the sites we visit to the search terms we use. And this data isn’t restricted to the work we do on computers. Thanks to the “internet of things,” all our various connections can be monitored by our ISPs — from our physical location to the temperature we keep our homes to the music we ask Alexa to play for us. (In fact, Alexa processes all of our speech when it is on, even when we are not addressing it.)
Every day, we participate in a digital culture owned and operated by others — designers, engineers, technologists, CEOs — who have come to understand how easily they can harvest our intellectual property, data, and the minute details of our lives. To resist this (or even to more consciously participate in it), we need skills that allow us to “read” our world (in the Freirean sense) and to act with agency.
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