Every time students swipe their OneCards, they leave a trail of data that the College could—yet almost never does—use to reconstruct their movements over a certain span of time.
The Office of Safety and Security occasionally uses this data to help with its investigations.
To access it, Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols personally requests a specific set of data, which is sent from the OneCard office.
The data can be used in conjunction with camera footage of a specific place during a window of time to help solve theft or burglary cases or to help Security locate a missing student.
Nichols says OneCard data has helped Security solve a number of crimes on campus, and that it is only used for investigative purposes.
“People should realize that any time you use your OneCard there’s a permanent record of that date, time and location,” said Nichols. “The data is collected, stored and it is retrievable.”
Every time a Bowdoin student uses a OneCard, data is sent to a central database in the OneCard office.
Though all the data is accessible by this this office, Director of Events and Summer Programs Tony Sprague, who helps run the OneCard service, says that most of the data is processed automatically.
According to Sprague, when data is accessed by members of the OneCard office, it is mostly for customer service reasons such as printing issues or questions about meal plans and Polar Points.
“If we were to do a search we could see data, but it’s not something that’s readily looked at,” said Sprague.
The College tries to protect OneCard data by limiting who has access to it. Departments and offices only have access to data sets that pertain to their work.
The Dining Service, for example, has access to the numbers of meal swipes in and out of dining halls, but not the entire database.
Students and professors have used OneCard data for academic projects. Jeremy Lewis ’13, working with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Jack O’Brien, used the data to study choice theory by modeling how people choose which dining hall to go to.
“The swipe data captures a lot of the social structure of Bowdoin in a pretty deep way,” said O’Brien. “Who you go to the dining hall with really counts as socially important information.”
Because of privacy issues, the data Lewis used was anonymized. It was also collected three years ago. O’Brien and Chunyi Zhao ’15 are currently expanding upon the original study, working toward a more statistics-based analysis.
“You can pick up vegans almost perfectly,” said O’Brien, “because they so slavishly follow the menus.”