Who else is collecting data about your children?

privacy, COPPA, data, online, child

Digital footprints are not exclusive to online shoppers or avid social media users; everyone has one, including your 5-year-old child. Any online activity contributes to their “digital portrait”, making them vulnerable targets to advertisers and internet predators.

Taking Precautions

In an effort to protect minors on the world wide web, the FTC Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) created compliance regulations for online operators that host children under the age of 13 in 1998. Websites must (1) provide notice of what type of information is being collected and what it is being used for (2) obtain verifiable parental consent for collection/use of said information and (3) establish procedures to ensure confidentiality of data collected. In addition, it is illegal to make site entry/game participation contingent upon the amount of information disclosed.

However, “age limits” did not stop persistent pre-teens from joining social media and gaming sites. Regardless, 10 years later, data collection came to be mostly implicit. Thus, the FTC expanded COPPA in 2013 to include photos, videos, audio, device location, as well as other “persistent identification systems” (cookies, unique serial numbers on mobile phones, IP addresses).

The Current Situation

COPPA mostly attempts to thwart behavioral advertisers and 3rd party marketing agencies. For example, this past year, consumers claimed that Google violated user privacy as they consolidate user data across all platforms (Google Maps, Google search, etc.), making for a more comprehensive user profile. The announcement of this pervasive policy change was deemed “deceptive” by consumer advocates. This is not the first time they have received contention.  Now, Google Maps includes “shareable lists”; on the note of privacy, WLRN writes “..the latest version of the Google Privacy Policy — dated Aug. 29, 2016 — states that ‘depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google.’ A note on the side specifies that ‘your activity on other sites and apps’ might come from your use of other Google products.”

However, parents need be aware of the privacy policies of common online tools (covered under COPPA or not), as well as the unconventional modes of data collection –like the following– and their possible repercussions. 

> 3rd party utilities. Despite this Facebook Hoax that claimed all personal information would be disclosed, Facebook privacy policies have relatively come under less fire. However, the 3rd-party Stalkscan makes access to FB personal content easier than ever before: “Stalkscan collects the huge amount of information revealed by that search term and puts it in an easily accessible form, allowing anyone to see all of the information about a person that it would be able to dredge up.” Although they claim it is not a breach of Privacy Policy, it exposes data that users may not know is defaulted “public”. Facebook provided Privacy Checkup to mitigate this vulnerability.

> Smart Toys. In recent years, toy companies have released products that allow for major security breaches. In Germany, the Federal Network Agency advised parents to destroy the My Friend Cayla doll. The Cayla doll interacts with children and responds to their questions by searching the web; it then stores child searches to be used by agencies.  In addition, researchers discovered “a hack allowing strangers to speak directly to children via the My Friend Cayla doll”. Mattel’s version Hello Barbie proved vulnerable after reports that the Wi-FI-enabled doll could be used as a surveillance device by hackers via the connected network; hackers could find out where the toy/child was or send back false data to the parent about child’s location. Hello Barbie also stores Wi-FI network names, the account IDs, and the audio it records.

> Video games.  According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, child predators a lurk in chat rooms of sites “kid-friendly” gaming platforms. The predators can randomly search for a name in the database, see that the child is a Minecraft player, and then strike up a conversation in a chat room. Minecraft, not unlike other games, allows kids to play with other people in three ways: (1) a local area network (LAN) (2) online server or (3) Minecraft Realms. In addition, many kids post videos of themselves playing games which leak heavy clues to personal information and location.

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The Edtech Revolution: 2010 – 2017

School Devices People Isometric

In December 2010, The Journal –“the leading Technology based education publication for K-12 and higher education”– published an article with a 5-prong prediction for the following year. Will the cloud continue to reign? Will more schools embrace student-centric mobile devices? These were the pressing questions of the time – a time 8-months after the release of the first iPad and 6-months before the release of the first Chromebook.

Now, we know that edtech has been proven to improve test scores and overall classroom engagement. But, how does the 2010 vision for edTech match what’s actually happening today?
 

7 YEARS LATER…

 

1. “There will be more momentum for mobile devices in classrooms with an eye toward affordable alternatives to traditional 1:1 rollouts.”

The 1:1 initiative aimed for districts to issue each student a laptop for use in-school and at home. For some districts, the cost per student quickly became unrealistic to initially implement, leading schools to create alternate strategies.

Then there was the iPad. Appealing to all ages for all occasions, the iPad topped the market in the following years after its release. Given that many children were acquiring iPads for personal use, some schools adopted a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Policy. Districts even integrated the two models to cut costs.

However, it was the Chromebook (2011) that truly revolutionized 1:1. While the iPad cost anywhere from $300 – $400, Chromebooks were sold from $199. The cost, plus it’s easy manageability and durability, made Chromebooks a main player in the edtech game. In 2012, Chromebooks accounted for only 1% of the devices sold to US classrooms; now, they make up more than half of the edtech market.
 

2. “Web-based instruction will gain more traction at the K-12 level.”

2010 was also the year that the Common Core Standards Initiative was enacted in response to numerous indicators of low student academic performance. Although the Common Core itself elicits mixed feelings, its effect on edtech is unwavering: “Integral to the Common Core was the expectation that they would be tested on computers using online standardized exams. As Secretary Duncan’s chief of staff wrote at the time, the Common Core was intended to create a national market for book publishers, technology companies, testing corporations, and other vendors.”

Indeed, $2.3 Billion has been invested in US K-12 education technology companies since 2010. Globally, edtech spending is predicted to reach $252 Billion by 2020.
 

3. “More tech-based monitoring and assessment tools will be incorporated into to the instructional mix.”

In 2000, the FCC created the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). CIPA requires schools and libraries to install measures to protect children from obscene or harmful content in exchange for discounts offered by the E-rate program. Many schools employ the use of a web filter to meet these requirements; however, administrators required new solutions that extended protection to school-owned devices at home.

Monitoring now includes take home policies and cyberbullying & self-harm detection. Parents are engaged via student activity reports on school-owned devices.
 

4. “The cloud will help ease the financial burden on schools while helping to expand technological capabilities.”

1:1 + Common Core = $$$$$. Valerie Strauss, a Washington Post reporter, claimed: “The financial cost of implementing Common Core has barely been mentioned in the national debates. All Common Core testing will be done online. This is a bonanza for the tech industry and other vendors. Every school district must buy new computers, new teaching materials, and new bandwidth for the testing. At a time when school budgets have been cut in most states and many thousands of teachers have been laid off, school districts across the nation will spend billions to pay for Common Core testing.”

Ironically, the cloud brought us light. Along with Chromebooks came Google Apps for Education – a suite of free, cloud-based productivity tools that allow for easy collaboration and engagement on any device. Check out their “Impact Portraits” to see specific examples of how the GSuite has benefited school districts in a variety of ways.

In addition, cloud-based web filtering allowed schools to abandon appliance based filters – saving them time, money, and effort with utmost CIPA compliance.
 

5. “Teachers will have access to expanded professional development programs.”

In 2011, the FCC updated CIPA compliance requirements. By 2012, all school Internet safety policies had to include educational programs detailing proper online behavior, cyberbullying awareness and response. In order to impart this knowledge to their students, teachers also had to go through digital literacy training.

Now, many schools now provide digital training professional workshops to help teachers integrate online safety best practices in their everyday classrooms. Some states mandate digital citizenship training for students and administrators in order for school districts to receive funding. By the 2014 House Bill 5101, each Florida school district will be granted at least $250,000 for digital classroom development. In order to receive this funding, each district must submit a digital classroom plan. The proposal must meet Florida Department of Education criteria. This includes creating a device Acceptable/Responsible Use Policy for students and providing digital literacy training for teachers, both of which are intended to combat cyberbullying by teaching students to be good digital citizens.

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How to Balance Trust and Safety in Digital Monitoring

parents, online, content, trust, safety, teens

Malware, spyware, online predators, phishing, etc. – your child faces these threats each time they log in to their device. The internet can be a devious place, with questionable content tucked into its darker corners.  As parents, you are inclined to install every safety measure possible to protect your children from harm.

Sure, these precautions are imperative for younger, elementary school-aged children. However, as kids become teens – chances are they won’t want you tracking their movements, monitoring their online activity, and/or filtering their content. To them, it is a breach of their privacy and a lack of trust. Perhaps this sentiment is merely a front for content they are trying to hide, but let’s not start off too skeptical. Psychologist Michael Rubino has worked with teens and families for 20 years; he says teenagers often ask, “If they want me to be responsible, how can I be responsible if they do not give me a chance?”

This in turn often leaves parents with the question: How do I walk the line between trusting and monitoring my teen?

It is possible.


In most cases, parents buy their child’s device (smartphone, laptop, etc.) and parents pay for the data service. Thus, it is important to remind your kid that their screentime is a privilege and thus can be taken away. Although this seems rather authoritarian, it is a point often taken for granted.

On a lighter note, the following includes more collaborative practices for establishing trust, while maintaining your child’s safety:

1. Transparency

“Spying” is masked with an incredibly negative connotation that lies in deception and secrecy. Tracking all of your child’s online activity without their knowledge already diminishes the chance of parent-child relationship built on trust.

It is best to tell your child of the x,y, z security measures you have installed to avoid feelings of betrayal, and later retaliation. By being frank with your child, you are establishing an openness intended to be respected/reciprocated. It sends the message: “Hey, I think these security measures are necessary. I can see what you’re doing. I’m giving you the responsibility to make decisions, and I’m holding you accountable for them.”

2. Compromise

48% of parents have read through their teen’s messages, and 61% monitor their browser history. However, this does not encourage an atmosphere of trust. A recent NYT article Should You Spy on Your Kids? claims: “A parent who constantly micromanages a teenager’s life — Why did you stop here? Why did you go there? — risks stifling the independence needed to develop into an adult.”

Please, do allow your child more freedom as they move through elementary school and onto middle and high school – but this does not mean you have to relinquish all responsibilities as the protectorate. Oscar Wilde once said, “With age come wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Although a bleak statement, this lends to the more moderate notion: although the transition from child to young adult marks a large jump in maturity, there is still a lot to be learned.

To foster a relationship built on mutual trust, discuss trade-offs. This can be as simple as being “friends” on Facebook or keeping Location Services on, but no reading through messages. When approached correctly, these tools should need not feel intrusive.

3. Talk Boundaries   

First and foremost, teach your children how to properly use technology as with great power, comes great responsibility. Impart digital literacy and digital citizenship practices and make clear what sites should and should not be accessed. Set ground rules and discuss expectations with your young adult as soon as possible: this includes individual screen time limits as well as restrictions on interacting with others on online platforms. In doing their part, parents should also be aware of the current technological climate.

On the other hand, if your teen is sharing a part of their world with you (being friends/sharing updates on social media) show the same respect by being courteous and following online etiquette: do not comment on every post, do not like every photo, etc. Check out this guide “How Parents Should Approach Their Teens on Social Media” for helpful tips to navigating this fairly new type of relationship.

4. Data Usage/Limits

Relative to the other practices, this is quite simple. Parents can set the data plan through their wireless provider to limit their teen’s browsing and app usage. This includes specifications like (1) app access only through Wi-Fi or (2) blocking texts, calls, and browsing during a designated time. These simple implementations limit access to online content (and also saves money), while still giving teens the freedom they crave.

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