A new comprehensive report has found that many remote learning apps used during the pandemic tracked students and shared their information with advertisers for targeted ads.
The report by Human Rights Watch examined 164 ed tech tools and websites used in the US and 48 other countries and found that 89% of the apps "appeared to engage in data practices that put children’s rights at risk.” Some of those apps were found to be sharing that data with marketers and data brokers.
The researchers added that “these products monitored or had the capacity to monitor children, in most cases secretly and without the consent of children or their parents, in many cases harvesting data on who they are, where they are, what they do in the classroom, who their family and friends are, and what kind of device their families could afford for them to use.” Some of that data was sent to companies including Google and Facebook, according to the report.
In the US, companies are required to “obtain verifiable parental consent before any collection, use, or disclosure of personal information from children.”
The researchers behind the report described the unchecked adoption of ed tech tools by governments, school and teachers as offloading “the true costs of providing education online onto children, who were forced to pay for their learning with their fundamental rights to privacy.”
A Google spokesperson told The Washington Post the company would investigate the claims, and a Facebook representative said it restricted the targeting of ads to children.
This issue is increasingly on the radar of regulators in the US. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission voted to approve a policy reminding ed tech providers of the current rules around collection of children's data. President Joe Biden applauded the new policy adding that "the agency will be cracking down on companies that persist in exploiting our children to make money."
Even as the pandemic has begun to subside, remote learning tools have stuck with many schools, who are increasingly using it during snowstorms and other extraordinary weather events.
The Human Rights Watch report was shared with a consortium of global news organizations under the moniker EdTech Exposed.