Virtual learning apps tracked and shared kids’ data and online activities with advertisers, the report says

Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy organization, published this week an investigation of findings from March 2021 to August 2021 that looked into educational services, including online learning tools, used by students all over the world when school districts moved to remote learning. General Chat Chat Lounge

Of the 164 products reviewed across 49 countries, Human Rights Watch found 146 (89%) appeared to engage in data practices that “risked or infringed on children’s rights.” These practices include monitoring or having the ability to monitor children without the students ‘or parents’ consent, and collecting a range of personal data, according to the report, such as their identity, location, their online activity and behaviors, and information about them. family and friends

“Children, parents, and teachers were largely kept in the dark,” Hye Jung Han, researcher at Children’s Rights and Technology at Human Rights Watch, told CNN Business. “But even if they had known what was going on, they had no choice. Children had to use these products and pay for their privacy, or be marked as absent and dropped out of school during Covid-19.”

Han said most of the apps and websites examined by Human Rights Watch sent information about children to Google and Facebook, which collectively owns the digital advertising market.

A spokeswoman for Facebook-parent Meta told CNN Business the company has policies around how businesses can share children’s data and advertising restrictions for how minors can be targeted. A Google spokeswoman said it requires developers and customers abide by data and privacy protections, and prohibits any personalized or marketing ads aimed at minors’ accounts. “We are investigating specific reports and will take appropriate action if we find policy violations,” the spokesperson said.

The report was shared with more than a dozen international news outlets, including The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, and El Mundo.

Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Overseas Project and a fellow at the NYU School of Law, said the findings add up. Mounting concerns around the collection of data among young people. In recent months, there has been intense scrutiny from lawmakers about the impact tech platforms have had on teens.

“We already knew technologies were being abused and putting children at risk, but this report is really important because it shows the scale of harm and how the same mistakes are being made by educators and governments around the world,” he said.

Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a US law, policies are in place to provide broad privacy protections for student educational records and protect them from invasive online tracking.

“But schools and tech firms are circumventing lawsuits that we’re supposed to make it harder for advertisers to track students and minors online,” Cahn said. “Platforms that, through loopholes, can make students some of the most surveyed individuals on the planet.”

John Davisson, director of litigation and senior counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the issue “a regulatory failure, pure and simple.” But he said he was encouraged by the Federal Trade Commission’s recently warned edtech vendors about their obligations to protect children’s privacy.

Last week, the FTC announced plans to crack down on companies illegally surveying children during learning onlineGeneral Chat Chat Lounge “Students must be able to do their schoolwork without surveillance by companies looking to harvest their data to pad their bottom line,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in a statement. “Parents should not have to choose between their children’s privacy and their participation in the digital classroom.”

Bart Willemsen, An analyst at research firm Gartner who focuses on privacy issues, said schools and tech tech providers have a responsibility to be fully transparent about what they are doing with data, have detailed control over how it is used, and establish why the data is needed at all.

“The data must serve a purpose, but the purpose cannot be advertising,” he said. “If this is not something we do in physical classrooms, this is not something that should be part of digital school life.”

He also said this type of collection of information could have a long-lasting impact on their children’s digital footprint, as data is not easily erased. “Parents have a role here,” he said. “Yet in situations like these, their strongest action is to let their voice be heard.”

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