Student Privacy Not Just About Identity Theft
At the National Student Privacy Symposium two weeks ago in DC, (written about on MEW here), Bill Fitzgerald of Common Sense Media, who writes the blog FunnyMonkey, was a panelist for the discussion of Potential Risks of Student Data Collection and Use. Up until that point in the symposium, most of the focus had been on student data collected and used by researchers, and the concern addressed was the identification of an individual student as if the only concern parents had was for identity theft. Fitzgerald mentioned other concerns parents had with the use of technology in the classroom and the Terms of Service agreements that students and/or teachers are asked to sign. Far more data can and is collected by the software used in the classroom and its use is much less well understood, but no less troubling.
Fitzgerald took on one of these Terms of Service (TOS) agreements for a product called Classroom Dojo, which offers a system where students’ behavior can be monitored throughout the day. Teachers can use an ipad, Smartphone, or computer and continuously adjust a student’s behavior points within the program. If someone is off task, the teacher can take points away. If they begin to focus, they get points and move up. The points are collected by the software which can then beam an up to the minute status report of all students scores to a white board.
I will step aside from the TOS review for a moment to comment on the concept mentioned above, sharing individual student data with an entire class in real time. We didn’t used to share all the grades with other students in K-6. We didn’t make their student record available for other students to see and make fun of. The public shaming of the dunce cap was eliminated decades ago, but apparently the creator of Dojo, who was a teacher, thought it was a good idea to bring that back and arm students with information about their classmates that can be used to bully and intimidate. This is just one example of the misuse and risks of data collection.
The reason that ClassDojo reserves the right to combine your data with external data sources becomes more obvious when they describe their relationships with third party companies.
In certain situations, businesses or third party websites we have relationships with may sell items or provide services to you through the Website (either alone or jointly with us). We may, for example, sell products or provide services jointly with affiliated businesses, or work with third party websites to enhance your online experience. These transactions or services may or may not be commercial in nature;, but we will not share your Children’s Personal Information in connection with any commercial third party transaction or service. You can recognize when an affiliated business is associated with such a transaction or service, and we will share your Personal Information or Children’s Personal Information with that affiliated business only to the extent that it is related to such transaction or service.
Translated: ClassDojo has partnerships with other companies selling products and services. Your contact info can be used as their rolodex…
On the one hand, they say, “we will not share your Children’s Personal Information in connection with any commercial third party transaction or service.” But, in the next line, they say that they “will share your Personal Information or Children’s Personal Information with that affiliated business only to the extent that it is related to such transaction” – so, they won’t share any information, right up until they share the information.
Another section of the Dojo TOS refers to the matter of who owns your data. Fitzgerald references the recent ConnectEDU bankruptcy where only a court order blocked the sale of their database as an asset in the bankruptcy proceedings. Dojo, he notes, makes it clear THEY own your data.
Business Transfers: In some cases, we may choose to buy or sell assets. In these types of transactions, user information is typically one of the business assets that are transferred. Moreover, if Company, or substantially all of its assets were acquired, or in the unlikely event that Company goes out of business or enters bankruptcy, user information would be one of the assets that is transferred or acquired by a third party.
Sam Chaudhary, co-founder of ClassDojo, did provide clarification to this point in the comments.
5. Business transfers – I’m afraid in this case the interpretation might be a little off. This term does not refer to ‘selling on information’ whenever we want to as a business asset; it largely covers the case of ClassDojo ever being acquired, or going bankrupt, both of which are legal outcomes our lawyers need us to be explicit about. If either of those ever happens, again, we will continue to do right by our users: our position will continue to be to never sell on or rent information to marketers or advertisers in either of those cases, or do other sleazy things with user information. You are right that this could be misinterpreted, though – I will attempt to clarify this in the next iteration.
What should be obvious to parents and school districts in this little exchange is that we have greatly complicated the process of educating a child by using crutches like Class Dojo. Now lawyers are involved to protect their corporate interests which will dominate decisions about what happens to data should your child be unlucky enough to be a user of their product at the time they undergo a merger, sale or bankruptcy. In the case of this particular product, mind you, the focus is not even on the academic advancement of your child, but rather on those social and emotional characteristics that schools now feel obligated to track and “correct.” Dojo’s founder’s desire to do the right thing for you and your child will be irrelevant to the courts and other corporate interests involved.
Then there’s the matter of how schools implement tools like ClassDojo. One parent wrote that the school had already assigned her child an account on Dojo which then used the parent’s private email address (preloaded w/o permission by the school) to send the parent a notice for how she could link to her child’s information. So the vendor had a private parent email address as part of their database and had access to student information that the parent did not before they signed up. These types of problems, which violate COPPA protections, could be avoided if schools did a better job when implementing technology. Things like getting parental permission prior to activating student’s accounts could avoid problems like these, but schools and teachers are too often in a rush to start using the shiny new technology they have been marketed.
Lastly, there is the matter of how schools use the information they now gather not only about the students but also about their parents. One parent noted that, in what sounded like a hostile meeting, the “gatekeepers at the school whipped out a paper and told me precisely how many hours, minutes and seconds that I had spent on the parent portal during the second quarter of grade 6.” So the issue is not just student identity theft, it is about how schools can use this type of data to marginalize or chastise parents for their parenting style.
There is a whole legal void when it comes to this type of data as well. Can such data, which parents may not even be aware is collected or understand how it is interpreted, be used against parents in school conflict resolution or family court proceedings? FERPA doesn’t protect parent data. What happens when the teacher loads the work email you happened to use in a private email exchange with her into such software, that is then sold and resold to other entities and you start getting tons of spam at the office that causes you a loss of productivity to eliminate or exposes your employer to malware? How might a child be harmed by a teacher merely clicking up or down on a tablet in a rapid but low conscious and highly subjective manner which produces a daily score for behavior with no documentation of what the teacher actually observed? How do you address the score in the future with no specifics given? Who would want a teacher to take time to document specifics of so much minor behavior instead of teaching content?
These are the other concerns about data collection that go well beyond basic identity theft. The rush is to get the technology into the classroom and worry about these details later.