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Australia Makes Big Moves Against Cheating Companies
Plus, a stock trader exposes why this matters for companies such as Chegg. Plus, cheating at Oxford.
Australia Asks Google, Others to Ban Cheating Ads, Removes Essay Mill from Internet
Last week, Australia took what may be the biggest, most aggressive actions against cheating companies and profiteers.
The country’s higher education authority wrote to Google and social media providers including YouTube and LinkedIn, requesting the companies delete and ban ads for cheating providers, advising them that the ads may violate their terms of service. They will also, according to local reporting, ask Facebook and Instagram to take similar action.
Days later, regulators won a court order banning an essay mill, “assignmenthelp4you.com” and “assignmenthelp2u.com” from the Internet and promptly shut down access to it nationwide. National authorities called the court ban and action a “test case” for a relatively new law that took effect in September that barred the advertising and selling of cheating services.
The Chief Commissioner of Australia’s higher education authority, Professor Peter Coaldrake told the papers,
This is industrial-scale cheating which represents a pernicious threat to the integrity of higher education in Australia, as it does in other jurisdictions
It is. And it does.
And this is very big news.
First, cheating providers everywhere live by search and social media. If Australia convinces these companies to block ads for cheating, it will crimp their marketing pipelines and damage their false appearance of legitimacy.
Second, by actually shutting access to a cheating site, Australia is setting a blueprint for knocking down others. Will it target the big cheating sites such as Chegg and Course Hero, the prime examples of “industrial-scale cheating”?
If Australia makes any progress at all with Google and the others, or starts blocking access to sites in bulk, not only will it cut the profit of cheating companies, it will create pressure to take similar action in the U.K. and the U.S. - at least at institutional and corporate levels.
Additionally, it’s refreshing to see someone take cheating seriously and do something about it.
Stock Trader Goes Off on Chegg, Exposes Big Vulnerability
Seeking Alpha is a large, active site used by stock traders and investors. There, a few days ago, a trader went absolutely off on cheating company Chegg.
And while a good bit of what he wrote is not related to cheating, the author is right about Chegg’s business model and, in digging around, found that the company knows that pending action could, probably would, absolutely kill it - along with its big, illicit cousins.
The post is worth a scan and the author writes that:
[Chegg’s] “study pack” accounted for 87% of revenues in the latest published accounts (3 months ending June 30th, 2021). It is the golden egg in Chegg with the Ch being for cheating which is what the study pack enables.
Ah, yup. Reminder, Chegg actually shut down its live tutoring service. Now, it just sells homework and test answers, which the Seeking Alpha writer noted when he signed up for the “study pack”:
The Chegg study pack contains 11 items but only 3 are highlighted (the other 8 provide services available free of charge elsewhere). The three left boil down to one thing Answers, Chegg sells answers, and pupils are buying them in volume. For students doing a necessary test or assignment, these answers are worth the money, they save time and effort, it is much easier to buy them than work them out yourself.
The author, who says he teaches university-level math, threw Chegg a question and, sure enough, it fed him an answer, the right answer, in 14 minutes. “You just can’t beat Chegg,” he wrote.
The article also highlights some of Chegg’s cheating scandals and the outstanding coverage by Forbes (see Issue 2 - I guess, I was not numbering them at the time) as well as my article on the legal analysis of the Pearson law suit (see Issue 57).
But here’s the big part.
The writer speculates what could happen if Chegg were to be swept up in the new laws that places such as the U.K. and Australia are bringing (see above and Issue 61). Quoting the newly proposed ban in the U.K., the writer says:
it states “offering answers to a student for payment will become a criminal offense”. Should Chegg ever be found guilty of contract cheating or heavily implicated, it may lose its most important suppliers. Cloud services, the App stores, and search engines
And Chegg knows this already as the Seeking Alpha story dug up this image from the company’s 10k (annual report) filing:
Bingo. Chegg knows that its site may be blocked by “colleges and certain governments” and that it depends on being able to advertise on Google. It knows that being “subject to liability” by textbook publishers or professors could be a major problem.
As an aside, I don’t know why any legitimate education provider would be worried about being restricted by colleges and governments.
But that’s not the important part. The big thing is that Chegg and the other cheating providers are vulnerable when it comes to access to their sites and the ads they run on search engines and social media - the very soft points Australia is taking out right now. If Australia makes progress in these areas, and other jurisdictions follow, Chegg and others will have serious trouble.
Suspected Cheating is Up at Oxford
A student publication at University of Oxford has a story on increased reports of “exam cheating and collusion cases” at the school.
The numbers are not huge - this year, just 27 cheating cases were reported. There were just 15 last year and zero reported cheating cases in the 2018/19 year. Zero.
This year’s incident number - 27 - does not include 36 cases of suspected plagiarism. Or nine incidents of collusion. Those would bring total reports to 72. Still, not many.
Oxford uses a traditional Honor Code system in which exams and assignments are not supervised or proctored at all, relying on students to police themselves and one another. Research has shown that schools with these types of traditional, active Honor Codes have fewer incidents of cheating, but not none.
With open-book, online, unproctored assessments, it’s implausible that there were only 72 cheating incidents at Oxford last year. With no one watching, those are just the ones that someone noticed or heard about and reported.
Anyway, for comparison, it’s 72 reports this year at Oxford. That number was 34 in 2018/19 before exams and courses went entirely online.
Correction: In the last Issue of “The Cheat Sheet,” I incorrectly referred to Salisbury University in Maryland as Salisbury College. My mistake entirely and I apologize.
In the next “The Cheat Sheet” - I’ll get into that great new research from scholars at Salisbury University and Mississippi State University on student motivations and rationalizations in cheating. Plus, “Call of Duty.” Plus, another study on cheating, this one from Australia.
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