Commercial business exploits WhatsApp study groups

Paid services for exam training, summaries, and essay reviews have been a thing for years, but commercial business AthenaStudies is taking it a step further to sell its wares.

The company, which sells exam training and summaries, is using WhatsApp groups that look like they’re officially part of the UG.

Groups like this exist at the faculties of Law, Economics and Business, Arts, and Medical Sciences. They look like regular group chats by and for university students.

Hundreds of students

The company has a reach of sometimes hundreds of students in each chat group. ‘Dear business students, this is a group chat for all first-years to help each other and ask study-related questions.’ This is the rather neutral-sounding description for a group chat called ‘BDK jaar 1 22/23’, which has the UG logo for a profile photo. 

But recent screenshots from the group show that the moderator not only removes links relevant (free) tools, but also removes the students who share them from the group. Next, the moderator starts advertising for paid training provided by Athena Studies.

Product placement

While the app group moderators are actual students, they work for AthenaStudies, a law student who’s part of one of its groups found out. ‘But it doesn’t say so anywhere’, he says.

That is, unless students in the group try to share study materials that have nothing to do with AthenaStudies. ‘It’s annoying, because they’re pretending to a regular group chat. But it’s really just product placement.’

The group member whose number ends in 31 (left column) offers old exams for people to practise with. The moderator, who’s with AthenaStudies, doesn’t like this. Not only is 31’s message removed, so is the user himself.

A second-year arts student who worked as an ‘ambassador’ for Athena, was rewarded with free summaries if she promoted the publisher. ‘They wanted me to send specific messages about the training AthenaStudies provided, at set times.’ The other students in the group chat didn’t know she was doing this on behalf of Athena.

Steep prices

The company AthenaStudies sells exam training and summaries, among other things. Its prices are steep: a twelve-hour exam training over Zoom costs 130 euros. Anyone who needs a summary can buy one ranging from 14 to 45 euros.

According to the company’s website, the training sessions are with senior students who passed the course with at least a score of eight out of ten. The website doesn’t make it clear who writes the summaries.

Steps

The UG is astonished at AthenaStudies’ methods. ‘Most faculties have study associations that create their own WhatsApp groups. Those associations allow commercial parties to advertise their services on these groups’, says spokesperson Elies Kouwenhoven. 

‘But those companies aren’t allowed to use our logo for commercial purposes. It’s copyrighted. Whether you’re selling a sweater with our logo on it or advertising your services in a group chat – you’re not allowed to make money off it without our permission’, she says.

The university is looking into the steps it can take. AthenaStudies could not be reached for comment.

Nederlands

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