A nine-year-old sits down at their desk at the start of the day and logs into their school’s educational technology system.
Within moments, a large number of companies are following them.
Louise Hooper witnessed this exchange in a new investigation into two products commonly used in British schools and how they are used there.
“As soon as the link was clicked, they left the safer classroom environment and at that point their interaction was monitored by 42 third parties, including various advertising services and analytics,” the British human rights lawyer said.
Hooper is co-author of a new 86-page report from London’s 5Rights Foundation, funded in part by the London School of Economics.
The Danish data protection agency has recently curtailed Google services in some schools. Chromebooks linked to the services are widely used in his schools, but the agency ruled that the processing of student data does not comply with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The foundation told RNZ that small countries like New Zealand should follow the Netherlands and try to curb educational technology spying on children.
The study concludes that the extent to which children are exposed varies by school, but in general digital classrooms violate data protection laws to exploit children’s data “for commercial gain”.
“The data collection is so extensive that we believe that, once combined, it is likely sufficient to create a complete profile of each individual child, including their identity, location, biometrics, preferences and abilities,” Hooper said in a statement. webinar.
Her team took an in-depth look at two products from Google and the British company ClassDojo, which are widely used in British schools, representing dozens of EdTech services that are flooding schools.
ClassDojo says on its website that it is “built on a lot of love” connecting more than 50 million teachers and families. RNZ has reached out to Google and ClassDojo for comment.
Another co-author of the report, Sonia Livingstone, said that as in New Zealand, Britain had promoted edtech, in part to offset the Covid-19 school locks.
But capturing exactly what’s going on, there like here, is difficult.
“Schools are so keen on kids having access to EdTech that EdTech is actually offered as part of a deal — that they get the kids’ data” in a “Faustian deal,” said Professor Livingstone, who is also part of the UK Digital Futures. Commission.
“We’ve spent a year with lawyers trying to understand what’s happening with that data, and the companies are really making it impossible.”
There was also surprisingly little evidence of EdTech’s educational benefits, she said.
Livingstone and Hooper found that the technology is blurring the lines between school and home so that family data can be monitored.
Parents felt powerless and deserved help, Livingstone said.
“A country like New Zealand can look at the good practices in other countries,” Livingstone said.
“The Dutch government conducted a major investigation and demanded that Google Classroom now operates to a higher standard than we see in the UK.
“So obviously the authorities can take action, but I’m baffled that they’re not giving it the priority it should have.”
Hooper said regulations should be global and enforceable.
British schools had limited resources to keep an eye on the big companies, despite the contracts they had with them, the survey found.
In this country, schools can hide behind the two major EdTech contracts that the Department of Education has with Microsoft and Google.
But even those have had limited independent research.
Netsafe didn’t check them.
“We don’t advise the Department about collective contracts around software they buy… because they don’t ask us for advice,” said Sean Lyons, Chief Online Safety Officer.
“I don’t work for the Ministry of Education.”
It puts the responsibility back on schools, although they may not have the expertise and resources, to make their own assessment of the privacy impact of EdTech tools.
“Schools should be part of that process, and I think most do,” Lyons said.
The leading agency connecting schools to the internet, Crown-owned N4L, declined to comment.
Asked about its views on the ministry that recently joined Australia’s Safer Tech for Schools initiative, N4L said: “We are not currently in a position to make a public statement on this program.”
She referred all questions from RNZ to the Ministry of Education.
The Privacy Foundation has been asking questions of the ministry, Privacy Commissioner, Netsafe and School Trustees Association for months, saying the preliminary findings show that the government needs to step in to protect children.
dr. Caroline Keen of Orewa, who also advocates stricter regulation, said the UK work “shows the complexity involved in revising EdTech as they are only trying two here”.
Students themselves have sometimes rebelled against invasive technology, but the 5 Rights survey found that students, their families, and teachers know little about how they are monitored and how their data is collected.
A Google spokesperson told RNZ that education technology should be private and secure.
Schools owned their data and had “technical and administrative control” over how Google processes it.
“We do not use Google Workspace for Education customer or service data to target or sell to third parties.”
Privacy International says people want control over their data but don’t know how, so it has released a guide.