Chegg is a “homework help” website advertised to students for access to textbooks and worked step-by-step answers to specific homework problems. Chegg cannot be used freely and costs from $15.95 to $19.95 a month. The cheapest option only includes homework help. For $19.95 a month the user has access to homework help, exam help, writing and math help, course documents, and Calm premium which is a meditation subscription.
Chegg was created in 2005 by Carlson and Osman Rashid as a rental textbook service, but Carlson left the company in 2007. Chegg’s profitability was up 38% in 2010, then the company hired Dan Rosensweig, who was a former Yahoo executive. In 2013 Chegg began trading public shares on the New York Stock Exchange and in 2014 a new strategy was introduced for tutoring. Also in 2014, they partnered with Ingram Content Group to distribute physical textbooks and in 2017 Chegg partnered with Pearson Education as their exclusive source for rental textbooks. In 2019 the site expanded to citations, plagiarism, and writing help to continue to grow their userbase (Zippa 2022).
The circuit of culture is how to study a topic and its influence appropriately and completely on our way of life. This way of exploring includes consumers who use the product, how it is used, its purpose, the identity of said consumers, the rules enforced over the product, how it is made, and how it all influences the product. All these aspects are related to each other and none of them works alone, building context around an artifact.
From Cultural History of the Internet
The aspect of production looks at the creation of things, the act of inventing it, sharing it, and selling it. Who benefits from the production of the site? Who all works for the company? Who produces the content? Chegg is unique in that they allow users to post on the website, which is accessible to all other users. There is also an exchange between the users and the experts hired to answer the questions. The experts also produce solutions which are posted on the public database, accessible to all users.
Users have two options to use Chegg for answers. One option is they can search for answers on the existing database of solved problems. Questions can be found through keywords or phrases and Chegg will show detailed solutions and a final answer. Users can also submit a problem to be solved by the paid experts and returned with a full solution in an average of 46 minutes. Once the problem is solved, it is uploaded to the public database.
Chegg’s past and current arrangements with other companies dictate what textbooks and answers the website provides. Chegg offers direct access to textbook answers without students having to submit certain problems due to their partnership with companies. They also have access to textbooks due to their past rental or buying textbook relationships. Chegg is in a current relationship with Purdue University Online Writing Lab to combine their student resources. Purdue is known for their helpful guidance on citations and formatted writing. Purdue also offers their improvement of Chegg’s AI technology (Purdue University 2019).
The idea of regulation covers the official and unofficial rules and guidelines for a website and the analysis of how it is regulated. One needs to consider who oversees the website, whether formal or informal, who enforces the rules, and whether it is effective or not. Most sites with subscriptions use the login and payments to officially regulate who has access to the website. Chegg can be analyzed through its regulation by looking at its subscription process, rules, and security.
Chegg uses two levels of subscription to regulate the access of users. The money allows access to the resources and services Chegg provides. The price charged is also determined by the administration and cannot be changed by others without authority. The price is a way to regulate users based on their access to money and how much the answers are worth to them. The lack of free access makes the answers more valuable.
All users can post questions but there is a lack of regulation. There seems to be no way to filter the appropriateness of the question and whether the content is relevant. The only way to certify a correct answer is to pay Chegg to answer it for you. Chegg must filter the qualifications of the experts to claim they have the skills to answer any question correctly. The operations take place in India with 70,000 employees to provide twenty-four-hour service so Chegg can provide answers at any time. The user must trust Chegg to provide the resources for correct answers.
Chegg also has had security issues in the form of multiple data breaches. The Federal Trade Commission believes these breaches were due to a failure to protect users. The first breach targeted employees and exposed their direct deposit information. The Federal Trade Commission highlights how Chegg did not have adequate policies or basic security. An official complaint was passed forcing Chegg to document and limit data collection, provide the consumer access to the data, add multi-factor authentication, and implement security programs (FTC Brings Action 2022). A second breach exposed users’ data such as parents’ income, date of birth, emails, passwords, and disabilities due to the data breaches. Chegg had to comply with the additional changes from the Federal Trade Commission within 90 days and allow a third-party security company to evaluate the website. Chegg responded and has complied with the charges and continues to improve their security (FTC Slams Chegg 2022).
The aspect of signification explores what the object represents depending on who receives it and the relationship between the two. The consumer quickly analyzes what the tone, language, and feelings associated with the topic tells them about what it represents. We can assess how Chegg represents the morals and liability of the users. Is it cheating? Does Chegg acknowledge its reputation?
Chegg has a posted Honor Code Policy which was last updated August 8th, 2022. The goal of the services is to help facilitate learning not replace it. The policy says the resources should only be used to assist in understanding and not intended to allow users to cheat or copy answers. Users who abuse the platform are at risk of being banned from the site or limited in access to services. It clearly states that using the answers provided to cheat on graded work is a violation of the Honor Code. Although Chegg has clarified the rules for not following academic integrity, it does not have an efficient process to find those who are breaking the rules.
Chegg’s latest update is to combat cheating by offering for professors to submit their exams before the testing date and then not allowing students to submit the test problems for expert answers. Professors can also submit a violation request in which Chegg can check the information related to a suspicious question. The professor needs to submit a letter from the institution or Dean and the link in which the question is referenced. Chegg can provide the following information: account number, email address, time and date of upload, IP address that accessed the URL, and geo-location data.
Theoretically, this process should be successful in identifying cheating, but there are a few flaws. The email address of the user is not verified so it could be an unrelated or fake email address. The one undeniable connection between the user and the account is the credit card information but Chegg will not provide this to a school. The IP address and geolocation are not helpful if the student is connected to school Wi-Fi or if the student has a VPN. In an example request, it took three follow-up emails for Chegg to send any of the information to the professor. There are also multiple questions answered on Chegg that have the word exam or test in the question and the experts still have posted the solutions. This process does not seem to be working.
F.E. Guerra-Pujol from the University of Central Florida looks at both the consumer and the seller side of the interaction. He decides Chegg is liable for criminal activity because it is a monthly exchange of money for answers to questions. He breaks it down to money being paid for better grades which he compares to Rick Singer, who was criminally charged for helping students get better grades in a famous college bribery scandal. The argument for the consumer is if it’s illegal for parents to pay Rick for their student to get good grades then it should be just as illegal for students to pay Chegg to get good grades. Chegg deprives students of the opportunity to do homework or take exams with their own knowledge (2021).
From Security Today
The idea of identity looks at who is involved in the entire process and who participates in the service. It identifies the groups, characteristics, and hobbies of those using the site. The major attention drawn to Chegg is how it is being used to allow students to cheat. What type of students use Chegg? Is there a difference in using the different aspects of Chegg?
Millican and Streseman from Texas Tech University explore why students are drawn to Chegg. Students pursue the instant improvement of their grades by either using other students’ answers or websites like Chegg. The comparison of cheating by using other students’ answers or using Chegg reinforces the advantage of Chegg. Students are closer to guaranteed answers using Chegg because of their verified solutions from paid experts. It is prevalent that the major difference in cost between using a friend and using Chegg is the paywall, yet Chegg is used more often. This could be because it only implicates a single student for cheating instead of both students for providing and receiving answers. Most of the students who were interviewed agree that this type of cheating is unethical but also acceptable (2020).
Texas A&M had a reported case in which an online finance class was suspected of using Chegg due to students answering the questions too quickly. The professor emailed the class and the university allowed guilty students to self-report themselves by 5 p.m. that day in order to avoid expulsion or suspension. The guilty students argued that the professor clearly stated the test was open note and the use of Chegg was assumed acceptable. The students blamed the professor for not clearly stating what resources are acceptable. The case ended with the Texas A&M ethics board deciding students should have used better judgment in knowing the use of Chegg for direct answers was unethical (Mcgee 2020).
The idea of consumption looks at how, why, what limits, and who uses the product. The analysis of the type of people who consume Chegg reveals the use, access, and outcome of the product. The focus on why people consume the resources on Chegg can come down to morals. Does the reputation of Chegg limit who consumes the resources? Can people use the website in good conscience and find it justifiable?
Users must make a major moral decision when using Chegg. Millican and Streseman analyze this thought process through two lenses. The Kantian methodology as a universal law says everyone will use Chegg when they do not know the answer to an assignment for academic advantage. If all students use Chegg to improve their grades, then all students null the effect. If everyone is cheating, then the education system is meaningless and there would be no way to prove students are truly learning. The maxim of the law is that students pay Chegg when they do not know the answer for an advantage over classmates, therefore it cannot be universalized and is not ethical.
From The Imprint
The utilitarian lens looks at the ethics of how an action will maximize one’s utility to society. If the user is not caught cheating, then their utility to society remains the same and if they’re successful then their utility is increased. On a larger scale, cheating decreases a user’s utility to society because they are not learning as much. Users are hurting their reputation and struggling with a job for which they would already have the skills. In the short-term, if the user is not caught then cheating benefits them. Users can acknowledge that cheating is unethical but can justify it using the short-term view of utilitarianism (2020).
The moral aspect of using Chegg is intertwined between many aspects of the circuit of culture like consumption, regulation, and identity. Chegg has been under criticism for providing students with a way to continuously cheat on obviously graded questions. There have been multiple cases and publications of universities connecting Chegg to an increase in ethics violations. The website has taken a few steps to improve security and protect the integrity of the website but there has been no good solution. The scheme of the website is to use a lack of restriction on what information is posted and a paywall to create a profit. The lack of regulation to prevent cheating makes the website more useful and more profitable. The answers are formally regulated through the Chegg experts which increases the profitability of the website. The administration of Chegg has created a production with a lack of regulation in order to optimize its profitability and appeal to the right number of users.
“Chegg History.” Zippa: The Career Expert, September 19, 2022. https://www.zippia.com/chegg-careers-2363/history/.
Guerra-Pujol, F.E. “The Chegg Conspiracy.” (August 25, 2021): 1-3. https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3910500.
“FTC Brings Action Against Ed Tech Provider Chegg for Carless Security That Exposed Personal Data of Millions of Customers.” Federal Trade Commission, (October 2022). https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/10/ftc-brings-action-against-ed-tech-provider-chegg-careless-security-exposed-personal-data-millions
“FTC Slams Chegg for Chronic, Careless Security.” Cyber Security Monitor Worldwide, (November 2022). https://advance-lexis-com.proxy1.library.jhu.edu/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:66S7-5771-JDJN-62NV-00000-00&context=1516831.
Joseph Millican and Matthew Streseman. “The Ethics of Chegg.” The Journal of the TTU Ethics Center 4, no. 2 (Nov 2020): 1-6. https://ttuec-ojs-ttu.tdl.org/ttuec/index.php/ttuec/article/view/54
Kate Mcgee. “Texas A&M Investigating ‘Large Scale’ Cheating Case as Universities See More Academic Misconduct in Era of Online Classes.” Texas Tribune, December 6, 2020. https://www.texastribune.org/2020/12/16/texas-am-chegg-cheating/
“The Purdue University Online Writing Lab and Chegg Partner to Make World-Class Writing Education Tools More Accessible.” Purdue University, February 6, 2019. https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2019/Q1/the-purdue-university-online-writing-lab-and-chegg-partner-to-make-world-class-writing-education-tools-more-accessible.html.