The beginning of the school year is right around the corner. Over the summer, your school may have acquired new devices, software, and educational technology (or ed tech) to use in classrooms. Or, your school may have expanded existing technology programs, or may be thinking about adopting new forms of ed tech. Any of these scenarios can mean new privacy concerns and new chances for you to advocate for student privacy.
Our student privacy report offers recommendations for several stakeholder groups. In this post, we'll focus specifically on parents. Based on the inquiries EFF receives regularly, it is clear that parents across the country are concerned about the privacy implications of technology in the classroom. Parents are in a strong position to advocate to schools and districts on behalf of their children. Here are some of our recommendations:
Ask the right questions. As a parent, be on the lookout for:
- What kind of devices, applications, and other technology are being used to teach your child?
- Were you presented with the opportunity to review the privacy policies of these vendors?
- What data are the technology providers and the school district collecting, respectively? Do vendors and schools clearly communicate why they’re collecting that data?
- Are the technology vendors using current best practices to protect the data collected on your child?
- You should be able to choose whether or not any use of your child’s data is collected or used for purposes beyond student education—for instance, product improvement. If data will be used for product improvement, is it properly anonymized and aggregated?
- Will the vendor disclose any student data to its partners or other third parties in the normal course of business? If so, are those conditions clearly stated? What are the privacy practices of those entities?
- In a hardware product like a laptop, are controls available to prevent the vendor and school district employees from using the devices’ webcams, microphones, and location-tracking features to spy on students? What are the school or district’s policies on using those features?
Push for opt-out alternatives. Outline your privacy concerns to the school or district and ask for options to opt out of technology use, or to use different devices or software. If opt-out processes are not in place, advocate for their creation. People to reach out to might include your children’s teachers, technology directors, principals, and parent-teacher association leadership.
Find allies. You can find allies both locally within your school or district as well as elsewhere through national networks of other concerned parents. Some tips for connecting with parents locally include:
- Raise your concerns with parents you already know well. Do not try to convince anyone—just look for two or three others who already share your concerns.
- If you cannot easily find at least two other parents who share your concerns, approach your child’s teacher(s) and ask whether they know any other parents who might share your concerns. Ask your child if any of his/her peers and classmates have raised concerns and speak with their parents.
- Hold a discussion group for a small group of parents. Discuss what information other parents have received from the school or district, and which other parents share your concerns and want to work together.
Once you have identified a small group of parents to work with:
- Attend a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or equivalent meeting together and raise your concerns. Make sure everyone in your groups speaks and collect contact information of other similarly-minded parents who may be potential allies.
- Contact your district and/or school administrators and request a meeting with all the parents in your group. Make sure everyone in your group speaks. Ask district or school officials to explain the process through which the current technology and policy was adopted, and how it might be changed. Ask district or school officials to provide training to teachers, administrators, and students about best practices for protecting student privacy and digital literacy generally. Lastly, see if the district or school officials can propose other solutions to your concerns.
- Contact a member of your school board and request a meeting with all the parents in your group. Make sure everyone in your group speaks and ask the school board member whether they would consider sponsoring a measure constraining school or district contracts to prevent intrusive data collection.
Want to learn more? Read our report Spying on Students: School-Issued Devices and Student Privacy for more recommendations, analysis of student privacy law, and case studies from across the country.