iPad apps


How do parents or teachers know if a classroom app is “safe” to use?  There is no easy answer.

A key to data safety is ownership: Who owns the data?  When it comes to student data, many privacy policies say the school or the state department of education owns the data.  We disagree.  Data should belong to the individual.  Data about you, generated by you, should belong to you. If everything a student does online is collected, catalogued, scrutinized and profiled–creating an alternate internet identity of the student–the student and the parents should have the right to decide how that identity is shared or used.  Period.  We will discuss data ownership and internet identity in future blogs but for now, let’s focus on another aspect of data safety.

Another key to data safety is transparency: what data is collected, is it accurate, how is data shared, who is it shared with, how is it securely store, and what is the data used for? (Is data being re-purposed, profiled using algorithms to detect and predict everything from future insurance risks, or employment opportunities, mental or emotional fitness, etc.? )


One team’s attempt to review classroom apps

The biggest edtech convention of the year, ISTE, was recently held in Denver,  Colorado.  Of the many interesting presentations from heavy hitters like Google and Amazon, there was also a privacy presentation from Common Sense Media entitled: How Do Edtech Products Rate on Safety?  The Good and the Not-So-Good.  According to Edsurge, Common Sense reviewed 25 classroom apps based on the following principles and then rated them here.  (Word on the street is that the team will be reviewing more apps and privacy policies in the future.)

The team created summaries of their evaluations, and organized the pros and potential risks for each tools into four categories:

1) Privacy: Such as data mining, profiling, and advertising;

2) Security: Encryption, password reset processes, and other areas where issues could arise;

3) Compliance: With laws like COPPA and FERPA;

4) Safety: Digital footprint or site interaction issues.

Take a look at some of the apps like Schoology and StackUp to see how they were rated.  (Hint: more green bars = better privacy or security.)

Interesting to note that StackUp is a Denver based company who wants to “turn web browsing into a online learning game” and according to this piece in the Denver Post on StackUp,

“It targets students”,  but “StackUp won’t share how it figures out what users are doing on Facebook. But it has two pending patents on its “smart system (that) knows when students are engaged.”  

Hmmm… it’s no wonder StackUp received poor reviews on privacy and safety and security.

A final note

The Common Sense review of classroom apps does not link directly to the privacy policies of the apps they reviewed.  While many parents or educators do not have the time to read and review these policies, perhaps providing a link to the actual policy would make it a bit easier for folks to review on their own.  Also, these reviews are a first baby step. It is still up to the school to read the policies, know how data is being used and accept responsiblity for the data that is collected.

Unless students are offered equal alternative access to a NON-online education, then the school, if they want to claim ownership of the data, assumes full responsibility, liablity and risk of how that data is handled or mishandled.   In acting as a parent agent (signing children up for online apps without informed parent consent) schools are literally taking data risk into their own hands.


Graphic may be accessed here to get started on the 21 million plus pages parents can wade through searching for apps used in the classroom.  Search ‘privacy’ and see what are the terms most associated with that word.



Cheri Kiesecker

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