Your Kid's School Is Probably Collecting Tons of Data on Them - 5 minutes read

Your Kid's School Is Probably Collecting Tons of Data on Them

We’re living in a time when cyber-bulling, self-harm, suicide and school shootings are all things that parents and educators need to worry about. And as technology became more prevalent in the classroom, an obvious solution was born—monitor what our kids are searching, reading, viewing and writing to look for red flags.

As a result, schools and tech companies are no longer simply storing data related to grades and attendance; now they’ve got a whole lot more. And many parents are becoming concerned that some of that data could come back to bite them later. The Guardian reports:

This is not a distant worry. Teenagers are already facing consequences for private behavior online. In 2017, Harvard rescinded the admissions of at least 10 incoming students for sharing racist and obscene jokes in a private Facebook group chat. This year, Harvard rescinded an offer of admission to Kyle Kashuv, a conservative activist from Parkland, Florida, because of racist comments he had made in text messages and a shared Google Doc as a 16-year-old, a decision that sparked a heated national debate. Parents across the US told the Guardian that they were afraid about having detailed educational data about their children–like how quickly they complete their homework–being fed into the enormous black box of the data mining industry. Companies have long gathered, traded and sold vast quantities of data on individuals’ online behavior and consumer purchases, information that is also combined with public voter data and used to create targeted political advertising. Individuals have little way to know how their data is shared from one company to another, and no power to prevent giant, frequent data breaches.

A group of parents in Montgomery County Public Schools, in a suburb of Washington D.C., have fought to implement an annual “Data Deletion Week” to clear much of its students’ digital slates from the district and the tech companies and online applications it uses. And the program may be the first and only one of its kind.

The effort was spearheaded by one parent, Bradley Shear, an attorney who specializes in social media and privacy policy, who was at a conference for privacy law scholars when he got a phone call about his son. His son, who was in second grade at the time, was in trouble for googling the song Fuck You by CeeLo Green on his school laptop, which Shear tells the Guardian happened accidentally when Google auto-populated the search.

Shear wanted to make sure the data would be deleted by GoGuardian, which contracted with the district to monitor students’ searches and website visits.

Not every district is going to have the benefit of having a bunch of parents who are attorneys and experts in security, privacy and politics. But those parents haveproven that with some persistence, it is possible to implement regular data deletion.

Shear started by meeting with district officials to discuss his concerns and then with his district’s parent-teacher organization, which already had a “safe tech committee” in place. He found support there, where one member of the committee told the Guardian she’d had a similar experience as Shear and his son:

She said her then eight-year-old son typed in “save the land” when doing a book report on conservation, “and up came the Ku Klux Klan … ‘Save the land, join the Klan.’ He didn’t know what that was,” she said. When she talked to the teacher and suggested wiping the search from her son’s browser history, the teacher said that would not be possible, the parent recalled.

Simply getting the district to agree to the purge and change its policies was not enough, though. Parents and school officials worked together to wade through each of the contracts the district had with various technology companies to see what was possible and what language needed to changed.

And finally, a simple “no problem, we’ve deleted it” from those outside companies wasn’t going to suffice—they required official letters to certify that the data had been fully deleted and not simply kept and “de-identified.”


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