Contesting Turnitin TOS

2 min read

Turnitin User Agreement: I disagree
Hans de Zwart, Jan 10/2018

University of Amsterdam student Hans de Zwart deconstructs a particularly troublesome section of the Turnitin user agreement in this blog post. It is a user agreement his institution wants him to accept in order to submit assignments to the institutional LMS. But de Zwart takes issue with the agreement.

If you agree to the User Agreement you have just given Turnitin (and its partners) permission to use your paper for any service and at any point in the time in the future.

And even though you have not limited them in any way, they still want to make sure that you agree with them being allow to changing the rules whenever they want.

https://blog.hansdezwart.nl/2018/01/10/turnitin-user-agreement-i-disagree/

One of the emerging principles of data ownership that strongly resonates with me is the idea that students should be in control of their own data and how it is used. And seeing de Zwart's conditions on his use of Turnitin underscores that students do indeed want this kind of control. He adds his own terms and conditions to how he would consent to using Turnitin.

My work can only be used by Turnitin to check for plagiarism.

As I see no reason for it being my responsibility to help Turnitin get better at doing their job (by giving them the ability to recognise when somebody plagiarizes my work), I want Turnitin to delete my work as soon as the check has been done.

If Turnitin relies on third parties to do the plagiarism check, then I would need a limitative list of these parties and the assurance that the above two conditions will also count for them.

At the very least, these are the kinds of conditions we need to start insisting are in the terms of service of the vendors we do business with. Student data needs to be under their control and they need to be the ones who decide how their data is used, now and in the future.

Students rallying against Turnitin, a company that has referred to remix, mashups, retweets, and aggregation as acts of plagiarism, is nothing new. And yet here we are 15 years after the McGill incident, and we are still not hearing their message.