Children are being spied on by tech companies through devices and software used in school environments, which collect data including names, dates of birth, browsing history and location data, according to a new report released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
The group found that in many cases this data collection is being conducted without adequate privacy protection or the knowledge or consent of parents.
The report, titled Spying on Students: School-Issued Devices and Student Privacy, suggests that state and federal laws, as well as industry regulations, are failing to keep up with the advances of technologies in the classroom. It notes that while schools are keen to adopt new technologies in order to boost pupil engagement and better assist teachers, they may be unwittingly helping tech companies to track children’s activities online.
According to the findings, a third of all primary and secondary students in the U.S. use school-owned devices that run software and apps which gather more data on the children than is necessary.
‘Resource-strapped school[s] can receive these tools steeply reduced prices or for free as tech companies seek a slice of the $8-billion-dollar education technology, or ed tech, industry,’ said the EFF. ‘But there’s a real, devastating cost — the tracking, cataloguing, and exploitation of data about children as young as five years old.’
Out of 152 ed tech services surveyed, 118 had published privacy policies. However, even fewer covered basic privacy issues such as data retention, encryption, de-identification, or aggregation.
Gennie Gebhart, an EFF researcher and one of the report authors commented: ‘Our report shows that the surveillance culture begins in grade school, which 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.’
The EFF surveyed more than 1,000 stakeholders from across the U.S., including students, teachers, parents and school administrators, as well as 152 ed tech providers. The research was conducted over the course of a year.
Parents, teachers and students were often found to feel helpless in dealing with these privacy issues – in some cases not even permitted to opt out of using the tools in question.