The college football surveillance culture that is Alabama

Saban, the Alabama football coach, has long been peeved that the student section at Bryant-Denny Stadium empties early. So this season, the university is rewarding students who attend games — and stay until the fourth quarter — with an alluring prize: improved access to tickets to the SEC championship game and to the College Football Playoff semifinals and championship game, which Alabama is trying to reach for the fifth consecutive season.

But to do this, Alabama is taking an extraordinary, Orwellian step: using location-tracking technology from students’ phones to see who skips out and who stays.

“It’s kind of like Big Brother,” said Allison Isidore, a graduate student in religious studies from Montclair, N.J…

Greg Byrne, Alabama’s athletic director, said privacy concerns rarely came up when the program was being discussed with other departments and student groups. Students who download the Tide Loyalty Points app will be tracked only inside the stadium, he said, and they can close the app — or delete it — once they leave the stadium. “If anybody has a phone, unless you’re in airplane mode or have it off, the cellular companies know where you are,” he said.

Here is the full NYT piece, via Anecdotal.


'But to do this, Alabama is taking an extraordinary, Orwellian step: using location-tracking technology from students’ phones to see who skips out and who stays.'

Oh please, the number of companies in America using extraordinary, Orwellian location-tracking technology is likely uncountable at this point.

Particularly the sort of companies that attract book length love letters.

So piss off anyway, leaving your phone with a friend.

That is just the NYT demonstrating their anti-conservative bias.

There is nothing Orwellian about this.

'There is nothing Orwellian about this.'

In terms of this specific example, sure. The fact that people seem to have no problems with being tracked throughout their lives is actually Orwellian, though even he did not imagine portable telescreens.

'leaving your phone with a friend'

I have never had a cell/smart phone. I also have never had a credit card - that's right, I have been paying my ISP in cash for over a couple of decades, for example. I have also bought all my motor vehicles (new and used) using cash.

Doesn't matter. The inexorable rise of surveillance capitalism seems just that - inexorable.

And I don't use mass market tin foil either, I hand craft my own.

I don't use tin foil, I just see no need for such things in my life. I hate middle men, basically, even though as Firefly pointed out, half the human race are middlemen, and they don't take kindly to being cut out.
But the fight against middlemen is even more quixotic than attempting to stop surveillance capitalism.

Admittedly, starting this year, you must use a Windows PC (or at least your tax preparer has to use one) in Germany, as many paper forms are no longer accepted. Meaning that for a couple of weeks, I need to actually turn on and plug in an Ethernet cable for a Windows PC just to use ELSTER.

You cannot even use Linux for everything anymore - this is the way that entrenched companies remain entrenched, not that Prof. Cowen is likely to be writing any love letters to the organizations that actually ensure that big business remains big.

"You cannot even use Linux for everything anymore " Anymore? There was never a time you could use linux for everything. I've always had one of each because I wanted to both play with linux, and get everything done.

No need, who would ever want to call you?

Good point. I doubt most banks want to offer a credit card to somebody with such a shaky employment history, too.

Privacy concerns are overblown. So what if you are being tracked? I have nothing to hide, do you?

Teamsters are showing solidarity with the UAW strike against GM. Be strong my brothers and sisters, all 50,000 of you! God Bless America!!

They already know that you bought a ticket. They already know that you have entered the stadium, since they scanned your ticket. This has been true for decades. But it's "Orwellian" that they will know how long you stay in the stadium? Pffffft.

This is some seriously unserious thinking about technology.

It is different though when it is all automated. They don't just know you entered the stadium or bought a ticket. They can tie to a name, address, and phone number and create a history/behavioral profile of you and keep that in perpetuity. Then all kinds of "creative" uses of the data could be had. Ask Justice Kavanaugh how glad he is to come of age before the rise of ubiquitous cameras and Google.

"They can tie to a name, address, and phone number and create a history/behavioral profile of you and keep that in perpetuity."

Sorry, I'm just not impressed. Compare it to, say, data that grocery stores have been collected about us via club card programs for decades. The fact that I went to a game, and walked over to the concession stand 2 times, and went to the bathroom, is far less interesting and revealing by comparison. The grocery store knows that you bought a pregnancy test on date X and started buying diapers on date Y. They know that you have hemorrhoids or are an alcoholic or that your wife just had her 50th birthday party.

This is purely freaking out because it has the words "location tracking technology" in it, never mind the actual impact.

Maybe Saban could schedule some more serious opponents for the Crimson Tide rather than his current line-up of non-conference creampuffs he fattens up his record upon, like Duke, New Mexico State, Southern Miss, the Western Carolina Catamounts, Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Washington Generals.

That, and the rest of the conference can stop blocking the move to a nine game conference schedule.

The stadium is far too large, climate change makes September day games much too hot, and one can see all games on tv. Getting folks to come to the stadium is going to take more effort on the part of the university

Not to mention, the 'live experience' tends to be pretty poor nowadays. You really feel the number and length of the commercial breaks. Worse, they land right at precisely the wrong moments - right after every scoring play.

As part of the television experience, spectators are a necessary background, especially excited college students with painted faces. The show isn't much different than something like "The Price Is Right" or "Wheel of Fortune", which would be very dull without a clamorous studio audience. Even if a ticket for every seat in the stadium had been sold, the television nabobs would want fans in those seats to show that the affair was actually important to someone.

Bama, and I would include Auburn, feel like they've earned the right to schedule cream puff non-schedule games and can still draw 80,000 fans against schools like Wofford and Tennessee Tech. They also play a minimum of 7 homes, sometimes 8, whereas Pac-12 schools are lucky to play 6 home games.

Saban shouldn't complain about students leaving early. My guess is Bama students stick around longer than students from other universities who never leave the tailgate party or are at the library.

This is not good for posers as me :/

Since college, I've been to football, hockey, basketball and baseball games just to please friends or spend time with a client to make a sale. Who am I to judge someone who wants to go to a game for his birthday? I couldn't care less about what happens in the field. As a poser, baseball is the best. You can stay by the grill and talk whatever you want. In basketball, people really puts attention to the game and looks down on you if you missed something "important".

Apps like this feels like the fan that looks down on you because you're not a true fan. What would I say to people? I can't go to the final because I was bored and I left the 2nd game on the 3rd quarter.

I don't know if this will backfire in the future. All the people that would never go to a game unless invited would feel under pressure. Indifferent people also pays tickets, drinks beer and eats hotdogs, maybe even more than the fans that worry about not drinking to much beer because they'd miss something while going to the toilet. What do they want beyond money? It's a damned cult.

So good news: you will always be able to buy a ticket to an Alabama football game.

In college football, there is always a special part of the stadium called the "student section" where students of the actual college have access to discounted tickets. The implied bargain is, we give you heavily discounted tickets, in exchange you must make a lot of noise when the other team is on offense (this is believed to disrupt the other team's ability to communicate execute plays during the game). THIS is why Nick Saban is angry that students are leaving early: it means he does not have his noise advantage late in the game.

This app tracks which students stay longer, and gives them preferential treatment for discounted student section seats in the future. Since you mention having clients, it sounds like you are long out of college.

I would guess that the "noise advantage" is not really meaningful late in games in which students leave early. If Alabama is up by 55 points in the 4th quarter against New Mexico State, does one really need a "noise advantage?"

If Alabama is playing Georgia and the score is 28-21 (either way) entering the 4th quarter, I'm guessing the students will stay and Alabama will have its "noise advantage."

In 2018, the smallest point differential for any Alabama game before the SEC Championship Game was 22 points - and they were leading Texas A&M by 29 points entering the 4th quarter. Why do I need to make noise in the 4th quarter?

The real question is if the same policy applies to boosters who leave early.

"The implied bargain is, we give you heavily discounted tickets, in exchange you must make a lot of noise when the other team is on offense "

No, the implied bargain, is that this is a college football game for college students on a college campus. At the point in time you price the college students out, a lot of college students are going to start wondering why they need this stadium that mostly subsidizes the rest of the athletic department. From a long term point of view, those college students form your ardent fans that are with you for decades.

So this is how liberty dies... with free tickets,

I'm struggling to figure out how voluntarily choosing to give some minimal data about myself, in exchange for something I value, constitutes a loss of liberty.

Yes, as long as it's voluntary... [/sarc]

La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.

First they tracked me at football games, and I did not speak out because I wanted free tickers.

Then they tracked me at the internet, and I did not speak out because I wanted my complimentary iPhone.

Then they tracked me at the office, and I did not speak out because I wanted a promotion.

Then they tracked me at the library, and I could not speak out because it would be impolite.

You are the smartest man alive. President Doctor Bolsonaro could use a man like you. You know.

That is the impersonator.

And then what? Did something bad happen eventually? Or did you just get a lot of stuff that you wanted?

The point is, those who are ready to exchange their freedom for a free ticket deserve neither.


Don't be silly, these aren't free tickets. They are just giving you the right to buy slightly better seats.

OK, maybe it is 'free' in one sense. Normally, you'd have to make a large (tax deductible??) donation to win the right to buy those seats.

So that is how liberty dies... with slightly better seats. Is dystopia suffering from budget constraints?

You would think that a religious studies student would be used to operating under an all-knowing, all-seeing eye...

Everyone is missing the point. Saban thinks it's more important to stay at a football game than go back to work studying!

If he wants people to stay, he should try not to make every game a blowout. Give the kids a reason to stay. On another note, University of Maryland sometimes gives out scholarships towards the end of the 4th quarter as an incentive for students to stay until the end.

What if everyone were required to carry a tracking/monitoring (listening) device at all times? That way not only Coach Saban but parents, spouses, and other interested persons could track your whereabouts and what you may say. Today's tracking devices track where we go (smart phones) and what we buy (credit cards); indeed, combining one tracking device (smart phone) with another (credit card) makes the job easier for the person being tracked. Adding monitoring can add context, the person being tracked explaining why she is where she is so her parents will know she is at the frat party not getting drunk or laid but conducting research for her class in anthropology. I could explain that I am back at the beverage store to buy more beverages for my besotted friends not myself. A spouse could explain that she is at her spouse's best friend's house while her spouse was away on business because the friend was lonely because her spouse was away on business.

Everyone is a sinner and tracking just might discourage enough sin to keep one eligible for paradise in the afterlife. I'd add a sin meter to the tracking/monitoring device so one would know when one is approaching the red zone of no return. This morning I read a review of Bari Weiss's new book in which she explains that everyone is anti-Semitic not just the raging right wing fanatics; yes, that would include the holier than Thou liberals who, according to the reviewer, are not only anti-Semitic but anti-freedom. Monitoring what liberals may say, what one on the left, right, or center may say, would discourage the kind of anti-Semitic and anti-freedom language that bothers Ms. Weiss and the reviewer; indeed, tracking/monitoring might discourage any language at all, which could be replaced with emojis to register our feelings. How do you feel about that?

I think Rayward went wayward.

Lonely souls like rayward and Ray Lopez (is it the name 'Ray'?) need to find a way to connect and spend time together.

Frats will start making their pledges carry 10 phones on them every home game.

Thread winner, +5 internet points

Of course, obvious once you say it. +1 for unintended consequences.

Incentives matter!

U of Minnesota also wants to attempt this. Instead of tickets, they will be rewarding random scholarships.

"the cellular companies know where you are" and were selling that location data...


"So this season, the university is rewarding students who attend games — and stay until the fourth quarter..."

Interesting way to frame it. I would think that the same policy effectively *punishes* those who don't stay. As far as this not being "Orwellian" and "a lot of US companies are doing it", I think this policy is different. It is not only the fact that tracking is employed, it is what is done with the information that is derived from the tracking and the consequences that makes the practice more arguably "Orwellian".

Who stayed? In College Station the app would have to track who sat down.

I was an athlete at Alabama, but I was on the track team. It always struck me as weird when Saban cried about disloyal fans, because we always got low attendance. To me it was always obvious why we weren't getting attendance - we didn't earn it. Maybe Saban should start thinking along the same lines. Your audience should actually want to stay, not be shamed into staying.

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