Lack of Protections in #PersonalizedLearning Software Programs Puts Privacy of Students and Families at Risk

[Press release re-shared from the National Education Policy Center // NEPC Publication]

“Digital technologies used in schools are increasingly being harnessed to amplify corporate marketing and profit-making and extend the reach of commercializing activities into every aspect of students’ school lives. In addition to the long-standing goal of providing brand exposure, marketing through education technology now routinely engages students in activities that facilitate the collection of valuable personal data and that socialize students to accept relentless monitoring and surveillance as normal, according to a new report released by the National Education Policy Center.

“Major players include computer manufacturers and operating system providers: Apple, Google, IBM, and Microsoft. Pearson, an education company best known as a testing giant, is also influential. Facebook, besides being the social media platform of choice for school groups and teams, has partnered with Summit Public Schools, a nonprofit charter school network, to produce its Personalized Learning Platform (PLP), used by at least 100 schools throughout the United States.

All kinds of companies, including entertainment and toy companies, are eager to cash in on education technology mania. Aspiring “ed tech” millionaires gather annually at conferences such as SXSWedu in Austin and at EdTechXGlobal conferences in Europe and Asia, where they develop and share their latest ideas for how to “radically disrupt” education. Rachael Stickland, co-founder of the organization Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, reported that at SXSWedu, speakers encouraged entrepreneurs to get in and make their mark in this ripe and loosely regulated market. “The message at SXSWedu is loud and clear,” she wrote in March 2017. “To win the game, hurry up and get your fair share before the research, evidence and privacy laws catch up to us!” [Emphasis added]

Education administrators are now busy revising policies to facilitate the entry of new software applications for teacher use. In the past, schools followed “request for proposal” processes in which they would evaluate proposals from many different companies before they would decide on a purchase—processes that could take six months to two years. To move things along more quickly, some schools have replaced the proposal process with product implementation demonstrations. Municipalities, such as New York and Chicago, now help match schools with education technology companies. These policies are consistent with the technology industry’s approach of moving to market without extensive product testing. In other words, they encourage schools to use children as test subjects for product development.” [Emphasis added] p. 13

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