Saturday, November 30, 2013

At least they are being honest about their dishonesty

Jonathan Bailey, a consultant for iParadigms (the company that markets Turnitin) and author of the "Plagiarism today" blog, noted in a recent article that the "free" plagiarism detection software Viper moves papers that it checks to its paper mill subsidiary about 9 months after the paper has been submitted for checking. They market primarily to students, so they will be harvesting papers that students have either written themselves, or may have plagiarized and then didn't read the fine print.

They do make this very clear on their site, but only at the very bottom of the download page and only on a page that is linked as "How does Viper use my essay?":
Aside from that, 9 months after your scan, we will automatically add it to our student database and it will be published on one of our study sites to allow other students to use it as an example of how to write a good essay.

We tested the system in 2010 a the HTW Berlin, where it not only came in last as far as effectiveness goes, but we also observed that there was an essay mill at the same street address and with a telephone number just one number on from the Viper number. We called and tried to obtain more information, but the number only gave us an email address to contact, and our emails there were returned as undeliverable. We also observed that the email address that was used for the system was now getting regular emails like this:
 or this:
I find it highly dishonest for a company to be so blatantly offering to write papers for students. The reason for attending university is to learn how to do research, structure information, think things through, and write about the experience. People who purchase and submit ghostwritten papers are cheating themselves.

I suppose we should be happy that they are at least publicly stating what it is that they do with the papers submitted. As Bailey points out, however, they also encourage universities to use the system, but since teachers do not hold the copyright to papers written by their students, they must violate the terms of service in order to use the system. What a tangled mess ...

1 comment:

  1. When I was talking about Viper in a recent workshop, one of the participants suddenly exclaimed, "That's what happened!"

    It seems that, last year, a student submitted a paper to a free "plagiarism detection service" for checking, got a clean bill of health, and then handed the paper to her teacher (my workshop participant), who put it through Turnitin. Again, a clean report.

    A year later, the teacher got a request from another school on the other side of the world; a paper submitted by one of his students had been matched against a paper in the Turnitin database, so Turnitin had referred teacher #2 to teacher #1. The papers were 90% identical. My teacher, the original teacher, could not understand, her student would surely not have colluded, not have sold her work...

    Almost certainly, she hadn't. But her reputation could have been ruined, could still be ruined.

    Viper claims "Most students don't mind helping other students by offering their essay/work as an example - they're finished with the essay and it's of no value to them." That's just not true.

    At least, as you say, Viper has been open (in the small print) about the use it makes of submitted essays. How many "plagiarism checkers" are not so "honest" - but still profit from innocent victims?

    Even more than this, I wonder why one has to download Viper software to one's own computer in order upload one's work for checking? Most other "services" allow you to copy&paste your essay... Me, I'd be very wary about downloading software from a dodgy company to my hard drive.