Nothing but …

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Last week, I received an email message from Chegg, telling me they had recently changed their Terms of Service.  It was very much an in-your-face message, in Helvetica 21.  That is big.

The body of the message reads:

 

 

We have updated our Terms of Use.

The updates are effective as of March 17, 2021. They apply to all accountholders, so we encourage you to read the Terms of Use fully. Some of the updates include changes to the Dispute Resolution section, the Arbitration Agreement, and to the procedures for filing a dispute against Chegg. The Terms of Use can be found here.

If you do not wish to have these Dispute Resolution updates apply to you, you must notify us as described in the Terms of Use within 30 days of their effective date.

 

 

 

 

It is a very carefully worded message. We are urged to “read the Terms of Use fully” and are told that “some of the updates include changes to” three specific areas of the Terms of Use, all three dealing with problems arising from using Chegg services and procedures in case of  dispute.   Note that use of “some of the updates include changes to…” – note that “some.”  The implication is that there may be other updates, other changes, but they are not mentioned in the email.

Nor are they listed on the Terms of Use page. There is no summary of changes made, no indication of what the previous terms were for comparison purposes.  Nor is there any indication of what, outside the dispute procedures, has also changed – just that note in the email suggesting that there have been changes elsewhere in the Terms of Use.  It is for the user to find them, “we encourage you to read the Terms of Use fully.”

There are 47 topics in the Terms of Use, more than 14,000 words on the page – not including the site navigation panel at the foot of the page, nor the links to other policy documents which it might be as well to read (including Chegg’s Privacy Policy, a page on Intellectual Property and Copyright, an Honor Code and other policies, terms and obligations).  That is a lot of reading, whether you are a first-time user or a long-time user seeking to see just what changes have been made or maybe – if you cannot find what those changes are because they are not highlighted – whether you still agree to those terms of use.

Those 14,000 words print out at 30 A4 pages using Times New Roman 12-point, slightly more in US Letter.  Do you have an hour or four to spare?

On my oath

I am reminded of the oath one makes, swears, affirms or promises in law courts around the world, that one will “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”  This is a carefully worded statement and is used worldwide.  Each part of the oath is needed alongside the others.

It is not enough simply to swear that you will tell the truth; everything you say could be true but it is possible also to be selective, to leave out some things which are true; it is also possible that along with the truth, you may throw in some untruths.

Nor is it enough to tell the truth and the whole truth;  now you are not able to leave out anything which is true, you cannot select what you will tell the court – but it is still possible for you to tell untruths alongside the truth, the whole truth.

So you must swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; now you cannot hide anything and you cannot include untruths alongside the truths, you are swearing that you will tell nothing but the truth.

So when Chegg tells you that “some of the updates include changes to … ,” it is natural to ask, “What other changes have you made? what are you not telling me?” And we shall come back to Chegg.

Enough to make you swear

This notion applies to Viper/ ScanMyEssay and other All Answers subsidiaries that featured in my last article Tempting snakes – and to similar services.  One of the reasons to avoid these “services” is that some of what they tell us may well be the truth, but they do not tell us the whole truth and sometimes they do not give us nothing but the truth.  They are not trustworthy.

In that article, I noted that Viper/ScanMyEssay openly tells us (if you read the small print on their site) that users of their free “plagarism checking” service can expect their uploads to appear on the company’s “study sites” three months after upload, but that work submitted to their pay-for service will “never be published on any of our study sites.”  That may well be true, but elsewhere they state that some worthy essays uploaded for “plagiarism checking” may be made available “subject to an access fee for the end user,” in other words, they will not publish an uploaded premium-rate essay on a website but instead they may well sell it on, unpublished – possibly as one of those study sites’ supposedly custom-written essays.

All the All Answers sites claim (in the small print) to be ethical, providing essays and other types of work and presentation, including guaranteed plagiarism-free custom-written essays as examples for students to see what good writing looks like, warning that submission of anything on the sites or custom-written work as the student’s own is unethical – while at the same time giving the impression that students are buying work that they can submit as their own, and that it is guaranteed to gain the grades contracted for.

This was one of the misleading advertising claims considered by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA Ruling on All Answers Ltd t/a UK Essays) in 2018.  Their  ruling was that the promises and apparent permissions were too prominent and the caveats too well hidden, users of UKEssays could well be misled by the statements made and the apparent guarantees given.  In short, UKEssays was either a scam or a cheat site – a scam in that users were sold a product that they could not use other than as an expensive custom-written example of (supposedly) good essay-writing, now go and do likewise, or else it was a cheat site in that customers would use the (supposedly) plagiarism-free essay as their own for assessment purposes.

The second misleading advertising claim considered by the ASA was in respect of claims made by UKEssays in regard of press coverage and endorsement. The site gave the impression that any mention of UKEssays in the press or on radio or television was an endorsement of their services, when in fact most of those reports were investigations into paper mills and essay writing companies, openly calling them cheat sites; quotations from press reports were often statements made by UKEssays employees when approached by the press – but were made to appear on the UKEssays site as if these were the opinions of the newspaper or the broadcaster.

The ASA found against UKEssays and AllAnswers on both counts.  It is not enough to tell the truth if you do not tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. To do otherwise makes you untrustworthy.

And so back to Chegg.

Chegg also claims to be completely ethical, upholding copyright, frowning on and sanctioning unethical practice and academic dishonesty – while at the same time easing students’ paths through school and college.

On their “Honor Code” page, Chegg states

Our products and services should never be used by you for any sort of cheating or fraud – like asking for answers to an active test or exam, or copying answers found online and submitting them as your own. These actions defeat the purpose of learning and are not fair to anyone.

and goes on to say

We don’t tolerate abuse of our platform or services. Dishonest behavior can damage a student’s reputation and record. It’s also unfair to other students, and it makes it difficult for educators to assess student progress.

To which one might use the retort, “Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?”  (as Mandy Rice-Davis almost said!).  This echoes and is echoed by those catch-all disclaimers on cheat sites and custom essay writing services. 

They would (and do) argue that it is not their fault if some customers misuse the service.  Critics of Twitter, Facebook and other social media services may also find that a familiar message.  It was not always necessarily this way.  Chegg has morphed from a message board for students to a textbook rental and sales service, to a student help service (helping students find course reviews, scholarships and internships) to a 24/7 study and homework help service, a tutoring service and more.  And it is these help services which are of most concern here, the cases which hit the headlines, as these examples show.

The writers of a 2019 report for Citron Research Chegg: The Poster Child for Institutionalized Academic Cheating described Chegg as

a $4 bil company that has made a business off selling answers to homework and selling a service that allows students to submit plagiarized work as original (p. 2)

and argued that

Cheating Has Become an Educational Addiction and Chegg is the Pusher (p.3).

There are suspicions that students have been using Chegg to seek for and download answers to exam questions, even while the examinations are taking place, as for instance reported in the New York Post in May 2020: Online cheating probes underway at Georgia Tech, Boston University.  

A report in Boston University’s student newspaper, The Daily Free Press, later reported that one professor had

… found all of the test questions posted to Chegg within the eight to 10 hours the test was available for download and submission,

and goes on to say

… breadcrumbs are always left behind, Ünlü said. Two of the solutions provided by Chegg experts, for example, were inaccurate, and students who submitted these solutions thus reveal themselves to have copied from the online resource (In era of online exams, concerns over cheating develop new nuances).

Another article,  this in Mind Matters News, reported

I have a colleague who subscribed to Chegg to check up on his students. In one case, a student started a problem, gave up, and took a photo to send to Chegg. The student was careless enough to send a photo that contained a drawing of the initial attempt to solve the problem. My colleague saw an exact match of the Chegg photo with the final test submitted by the student—and the student was busted (What’s To Be Done About Cheating with Chegg in the COVID era?).

Susan Adams, writing in Forbes (January 28 2021) learned that

hundreds of students (writing in online exams) submitted answers they copied from Chegg more quickly than it would have taken them to read the questions (This $12 Billion Company Is Getting Rich Off Students Cheating Their Way Through Covid)

Soon after Adams’ article, Thomas Lancaster and Codrin Cotarlan published a study in the International Journal for Educational Integrity Contract cheating by STEM students through a file sharing website: a Covid-19 pandemic perspective (February 2021); they investigated

… how a file sharing website popular with students is used to facilitate contract cheating (p. 13)

and suggested that use of Chegg in five STEM subjects had increased by more than 196% in a year (comparing usage over 4 months, April to August 2019 and April to August 2020).  They noted that Chegg’s Honor Code forbids use of their services for cheating or fraud, but stated that there is no evidence to show that anyone has ever been sanctioned for cheating or fraudulent use of Chegg services.

Chegg may not openly encourage cheating but they make it easy to do.

Then too, there are complaints about Chegg which suggest that they do not deliver what they say they will but charge regardless, as posts such as on the ConsumerAffairs.com website and on Twitter (search Chegg Homework) and UK_TrustPilot, make obvious.   Many of the complaints are about the difficulties of cancelling subscriptions to Chegg, the company just keeps charging credit cards regardless of instruction otherwise; complaints about customer service abound, as for instance when ordered textbooks do not arrive or arrive in poor condition but no recompense is made, and about accounts suddenly cut off but charges against credit cards remain.  Many posts also make obvious that students do use Chegg to take short cuts, to enable them to produce work which they can hand in for assessment without the need to learn or understand what they are doing – and there are many reviews which complain that the answers given are often wrong.

Terms again

But it is not just the help services and their misuse that causes concern.

And we are back to the changes in their Terms of Use, the disclosure that some changes have been made to their dispute procedures (but it is up to the user to discover just what) – and there are other changes in Terms of Use too (but they are not saying where, let alone giving precise detail/s.

Whether they have changed recently or not, some terms of use give alarm.  Probably the most alarming section is Chegg’s User Content and Activities section.

In this 8 paragraph section, you agree that with practically anything and everything you do on or with any Chegg site (including uploading or posting your own material, submitting questions or model answers, submitting text to their “plagiarism check” services,  using their citation/ reference generators and so on), you give Chegg a non-exclusive right to that material; Chegg can reuse it, pass it on or sell it on in any way they wish, without reference to you and without any form of payment for any further use of your material.

You also agree to let them use your personal details including your name, profile and photo for advertising and similar purposes.  You agree to let them use your material in any way they wish, even if you do not like the way they are using that material or any changes they have made to it.

Dangerous stuff.  In Tempting snakes, I noted that the Viper/ ScanMy Essay “plagiarism checking” site claims the right, after 3 months, to publish any material you submit for a free “plagiarism check” on one of its sister sites (and possibly to sell on but not openly publish any material you upload to its pay-for “plagiarism checking” service).

By contrast, Chegg claims rights in your work immediately, just by virtue of your using their services.   When you use a Chegg citation generator, when you use a Chegg “plagiarism check” or a Chegg spelling and grammar check, any of their writing tools (even if you ae not using one of their possibly less ethical servces) you give away your work to Chegg.  Chegg also claims rights in you immediately, again just by virtue of your using their services.  Your work and your personal details may be used by Chegg and its subsidiaries. Indeed, by using their  site (and thereby agreeing to their Terms of Use), you give them a “fully transferable right” to your details and your work – they could pass on or sell your details to non-Chegg companies.  You are theirs.

It is not as if their services are that brilliant, reliable or trustworthy, as indicated above, and so far, I have not been detailing in this article the problems with the various citation/ reference generators in the Chegg stable. If you want gory details, I have written about some of the shortcomings of EasyBib and CiteThisForMe and Citation Machine in earlier posts, as, for instance, Cheap shots (July 2020),  Good for a hangover (April 2019),  By any other brand-name not as sweet (January 2017) and more.

Not a great hoot

In Not such a wise OWL (March 2019, I bemoaned the partnership of Purdue Univesity’s Online Writing Lab (the OWL at Purdue) with Citation Machine, one of Chegg’s citation/ reference generators.

The partnership means that when students are using the OWL at Purdue to find guidance, templates and examples for various referencing conundrums, they are immediately exposed to Citation Machine – and also to a changing set of advertisements for Chegg services.

Just by using Citation Machine on the OWL at Purdue site, you immediately bind yourself to Chegg’s Terms of Use – including the use of any data they can grab, on top of the item/s for which you ask for suggested references.

And you expose yourself to advertisements for Chegg services, services which it looks as if the OWL at Purdue  endorses because they allow them to be displayed on their website:

 

 

 

It is insidious stuff – tempting you on, to use their grammar and plagiarism checks, to get “expert paper help & more” and to “get free expert writing help for your paper” – and in so doing and unawares to give up your work and your data …  and seemingly with the OWL’s blessing.  (I think Chegg gets a lot out of its partnership with the OWL at Purdue.  I wonder what the OWL gets out of Chegg?)

Whatever Chegg says, is it telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Let’s have the truth now!

1 thought on “Nothing but …

  1. Wow! Thank you for the indepth update. Definitely something to think about, and something to talk about with other educators.

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