EFF study: ed-tech is spying on America’s kids and not telling them about it

Cory Doctorow
Boing Boing

The Electronic Frontier Foundation surveyed hundreds of American kids, teachers and parents about privacy and the “ed-tech” sector, which is filling America‘s classrooms with Chromebooks and cloud services and mobile devices that ingest kids’ data wholesale without any meaningful privacy or data retention policies.

The survey paints a disturbing picture: parents have to fight like crazy to opt their kids out, only to discover that they’ve been opted back in by their teachers, who are given no time to prepare extra instruction for kids who don’t want to sacrifice their privacy and who are given no training on privacy and ed-tech.

Ed tech’s growth is also closely tied to newer market and policy forces. Valued at over $8 billion,7 the educational technology sector in the U.S. has been described as “the world’s most data-mineable industry by far.”8 As companies race to produce and capture more student data, the U.S. Department of Education has encouraged schools to use “big data” analysis to improve assessment and educational innovation.9 Common Core’s computerized testing requirements and other developments in education policy have also increasingly driven ed tech adoption forward.10 In the midst of these changing requirements, underfunded schools’ lack of resources can make them particularly susceptible to offers of free devices and educational software from large ed tech companies.11

While governments, schools, and industry shape the ed tech space, sensitive student data is caught in the middle—and this is where EFF places its focus. As ed tech growth outpaces legal and ethical understanding of its privacy implications, we risk placing students under silent yet pervasive surveillance that chills their creative expression both in and outside the classroom, and tracks their online behavior before they are old enough to understand its consequences.

In the long term, protecting student privacy means protecting children from surveillance culture at school and at home. The constant surveillance in which ed tech results can warp children’s privacy expectations, lead them to self-censor, and limit their creativity.12 A surveillance environment built by trusted teachers and educators will socialize children to ignore and even accept the routine collection, retention, and sale of their personal information.13 Ed tech unchecked threatens to normalize the next generation to a digital world in which users hand over data without question in return for free services—a world that is less private not just by default, but by design.

 

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