New EFF Report Looks at School Surveillance & Potential Solution Space
In comparing the recent EFF report to prior studies, parent response to student data collection appears to be mixed. In a 2016 survey conducted by Harris Poll for the Future of Privacy Forum (“FPF”) that included 1,008 parents, a majority (646) of whom had children in public school, parents reported being curious about how data is used in classrooms. The more visible the benefits of data use in classrooms, the more likely parents were to support data collection. Parental support of data use in classrooms was shown to increase between the 2015 and 2016 Future of Privacy Forum surveys. NPR Marketplace conducted 1,002 interviews of parents of children in grades 3-12. Although nearly half of the parents interviewed reported being very concerned about the security of their child’s personal information, 75% felt that schools engaged in the “right amount” of protection of this data. Over 70% of the parents reported finding technology useful for monitoring their child’s grades and assignments, and communicating with their child’s teacher.
The EFF report alsoexamines and critiques the existing and emerging solution space to address these and related privacy concerns, with a focus on the strengths and weaknesses of established federal laws, new state laws, and vendor self-regulation.
Self-regulation has largely taken the form of the Student Privacy Pledge, developed a few years ago by FPF and the Software & Information and Industry Association (“SIIA”), which now has over 300 ed tech companies as signatories. (FPF has previously addressed EFF concerns about the Pledge.) Lawmakers at the federal and state levels are also continuing to innovate around potential student privacy solutions. Notably, earlier this month, Senators Hatch and Markey brought back their attempt to strengthen student data privacy protections with their “Protecting Student Privacy Act.” However, according to a recent blog post by Professor Daniel Solove, federal lawmakers have largely been falling down on the job of passing robust privacy measures, leaving states like California to take the lead on student data privacy legislation. (A recent legislative proposal in CA that would have weakened some student privacy protections was taken off the table last week.)
Happenings. On April 27, Simmons College School of Library and Information Science and Mozilla are hosting a panel on Technology and Social Justice: Privacy, Policy, Data, and Design. In Australia, the Victoria Education Department is apologizing “for mistakenly publishing private and sensitive information about homeschooled children on its website . . . [including students’] medical conditions and personal traumas such as school bullying.” EdWeek looks at what the recent rollback of pending FCC privacy restrictions on telecom collection of user data “will mean for school districts and students.” A new report from the Joint Research Centre, Kaleidoscope on the Internet of Toys: Safety, security, privacy and societal insights, “encourage[s] parents to get informed about the capabilities, functions, security measures and privacy settings of toys before buying them . . . [and] to focus on the quality of play by observing their children, talking to them about their experiences and playing alongside and with their children.” Writing in EducauseReview, Professors George Veletsianos and Rolin Moe unpack how the “rise of broad cultural interest in edtech is a sociocultural and ideological phenomenon” and call for multi-stakeholder engagement in edtech development and use. Registration is underway for next month’s Strategic Data Project convening hosted by the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University; student privacy is among the session topics.
In Colorado, the collection of data regarding sexual orientation is being challenged based on concerns about prejudicial or biased treatment. An editorial piece published in The Gazette, Colorado Springs, raises concerns about the University of Colorado (CU) system requiring applicants to provide information about their sexual orientation: “The admissions board needs basic personal information, including ‘sex assigned at birth,’” with additional questions about sexual orientation. The editors argue that: “The proposed admissions question would emphasize differences the culture has strived to view as not-so-different.” The article did not include the perspective of the admissions board for the CU system, but did acknowledge that universities in another state ask similar questions of their applicants.
These cases provide an interesting juxtaposition between viewing data about sexual orientation as positively impacting health interventions versus potentially discriminating against college applicants. More broadly, advocates in Illinois argue for inclusion of sexual orientation questions in the U.S. census, contending that more data, not less, is necessary to inform federal policies, particularly around health and education.
How Much Does College Really Cost?
New York Governor Cuomosigned a law making college free for New York students in families making less than $100,000. How ‘free’ colleges will truly be is the subject of an analysis by Alexandra Levine in the New York Times. David Leonhardtcontends that the “widespread misimpression about the cost of college causes real damage,” highlighting a new calculator that can estimate real costs of colleges for families based on six questions. The calculator is the outcome of a collaboration of 15 universities aiming to make college more accessible. Lack of clarity around the costs of college and how much students can truly afford have resulted in lawsuits against Sallie Mae. Attorneys general in Washington and Illinois are challenging Sallie Mae to forgive “loans that were designed to fail,” predatory lending to students who would be unable to repay.
Happenings.Bill Fitzgerald, Director of the Privacy Initiative at Common Sense Media, highlights a proposed matching program between the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Human Services, which singles out students with an Alien Registration Number. Formal comments were welcome through April 19. New federal immigration practices continue to hit young people especially hard; as one teenager (an American citizen) explained when faced with the prospect of going to Mexico if her mother (a non-citizen) were to be deported there: “I can’t go to Mexico, I can’t go to school there, I don’t know how to speak Spanish properly, I have no friends.” Girl Scout Troop 6000 is the first of its kind in New York City to be solely designated for homeless girls. The New York Times reports that 40% of New York’s 60,000 homeless are children. In Troop 6000, girls learn leadership skills and participate in the protocols and opportunities of scouting. The California Department of Education reports that more than 8 in 10 students in California public high schools graduate on time. They further report that: “Graduation rates have risen for seven consecutive years, with the biggest increases seen among African-American and Latino students as well as English learners.” Race + IP, a scholarly conference exploring issues of race and intellectual property, was held at Boston College this past week, April 20-22. Dana Goldsteinreports that families who use vouchers for special education risk losing protections afforded by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), something of which most parents are unaware. A PBS NewsHour report “Will classroom cameras protect students with special needs?” explores impacts of recent legislation in Texas that requires cameras in special education classrooms. The parent of a developmentally disabled child who was abused while a student in a special education classroom describes the cameras as “the only voice for a child that can’t talk.”
Building the Digital Literacy Toolkit
Robust public discussion continues over the best tools to combat fake news and promote information quality in media reports and digital civic engagement. New contributions to the collective tool-kit include those that are largely tech-based, such as Google’s new fact-checking feature for certain search results and Facebook’s new educational post to give users “tips for spotting fake news.” Other recent suggestions include tools that are largely human-centered. For example, in this this recent op-ed in the New York Times, Casey Williams argues that “Trump’s playbook should be familiar to any student of critical theory and philosophy. It often feels like Trump has stolen our ideas and weaponized them.” Williams then concludes that these “critical tools” of intellectual analysis still have value in combating disinformation because “blind faith in objectivity and factual truth alone has not proven to be a promising way forward.” Some type of human-centered tools do seem to be essential, as recent research from the Media Insight Project finds that “[w]hen Americans encounter news on social media, how much they trust the content is determined less by who creates the news than by who shares it.” Across the pond, legislative tools are also being explored; notably, earlier this month, Germany “officially unveiled a landmark social-media bill . . . [that] would compel large outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to rapidly remove fake news that incites hate, as well as other ‘criminal’ content, or face fines as high as 50 million euros ($53 million).” Such targeted removal may be easier said than done, if recent adjustments to YouTube’s algorithms are any guide. According to an article earlier this week in the New York Times, “YouTube uses machine learning systems that can’t always discern context, or distinguish commentary or humor from hate speech,” which has resulted in pulling valuable advertising content from videos that are not offensive and putting the “wild, independent internet in danger of becoming more boring than TV.”
Happenings.David Weinberger writes for Backchannel on how “[k]nowing the world [through machine learning] may require giving up on understanding it.” EdTech examines the discussion from CoSN 2017 on the evolution of the role for the school district CTO and how to promote equity in tech access for students outside of school. In a special report for the Chronicle of Higher Education, John Lynch reflects that: “The single greatest cost of the course redesign that I watched was the faculty instructors (or ‘subject-matter experts,’ as they’re often referred to), who spent hundreds of hours planning and designing all of the new content. More important, I also realized that faculty will be the biggest cost for just about any successful educational technology project.” Creators of that tech staple for Gen Xers in their youth, Oregon Trail, are hot on the trail of groundbreaking tech again, this time with a new “educational software company called ‘Re@l Experiences at Life,’ which aims to introduce students to science, technology, engineering and math concepts and careers through a web portal on computers, tablets and even cell phones.” A new piece in the Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges offers an overview of the Internet of Things for classrooms.