Exploring Privacy Concerns for Ed Tech Tools

California State University, Northridge (CSUN) professor Kristen Walker is investigating the price that school districts will pay when it comes to protecting their privacy using ed tech tools through a grant from the National Science Foundation. The $230,960 grant will provide Walker with resources to look into procurement strategies and processes at K-12 schools, and the marketing efforts involved.

"Technology can be a great tool for teachers when they are trying to get their students to understand processes and concepts," said Walker, who teaches marketing at CSUN's David Nazarian College of Business and Economics. "But at the same time, there are a lot of questions about what happens to students' data when they use that technology. Does the company share the information they've collected? What happens if someone else — a parent, a teacher, a sibling, another student — uses the same device the student used? Is there a cookie that will collect that person's data as well?"

Walker's work builds on a campaign funded by Digital Trust Foundation to help young people and their parents learn how to safeguard their privacy online. The Youth-Driven Information Privacy Education Campaign was launched by Walker and her fellow CSUN marketing professor Tina Kiesler in 2016.

One area of concern is how teachers and students are using ed tech tools for instruction and learning. Google recently paid the Federal Trade Commission a $170 million fine for YouTube illegally collecting personal information from children without their parents' consent. The FTC is considering making changes to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule over concerns about how the regulations should apply to the ed tech sector.

"We need to start thinking about how the technology ends up in the classroom," said Walker. "Is it something the school district procured, and district officials reviewed the privacy safeguards? Did they buy the software or app, unaware that the company may be 'sharing' the data it collects? Or was it something, say a YouTube video, that a teacher or a group of teachers felt would be a great complement to their lesson plans, without realizing that just a couple clicks by their students could lead those students to inappropriate websites, or that YouTube would be collecting data from their students while they visited the site?"

More information about Walker's research is available on NSF's website.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

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