Who Knows Where Their Data Goes

All your data is for sale

Two articles crossed my RSS feed yesterday (yes, I still love my RSS). One piece is about student activists on college campuses advocating Bills of Rights, with at least some components related to knowing where their data is going when they use technology for institutional learning. The other piece is about how to best resists that collection as well as the sale of student data from tools being used in education.

From the piece in EdSurge entitled From High School to Harvard, Students Urge for Clarity on Privacy Rights:

… many students .. are still unaware of their rights when it comes to how their online footprints are tracked—whether by third-party companies or sometimes the school districts themselves.

From the piece at Digital Pedagogy entitled A Guide for Resisting Edtech:

Every day, we participate in a digital culture owned and operated by others — designers, engineers, technologists, CEOs — who have come to understand how easily they can harvest our intellectual property, data, and the minute details of our lives.

Both pieces are centered on awareness, advocacy and resistance to the this scouring and selling of privacy and data. The focus is on students — mostly university students — yet think of how many K-12 schools are now being more tech-focused, marketing themselves in this Age of Choice as digital innovation hubs to attract more students, and thus, more tuition.

Many schools regularly tap into outside EdTech — like Edmodo for social networking (and a recent target of hacking of student emails and accounts), Google and sites like Turnitin, the focus of the Digital Pedagogy piece, which notes:

A funny thing happened on the way to academic integrity. Plagiarism detection software (PDS), like Turnitin, has seized control of student intellectual property. While students who use Turnitin are discouraged from copying other work, the company itself can strip mine and sell student work for profit.

Profit. Money. Growth. Turnitin, for example, has access to more than 700 million pieces of student work that its terms of service says allows it to use for its business model. The article explores this whole issue with more nuance that I do here, but this bit of Terms of Service language gives you a taste of what the writers are objecting to:

You grant Turnitin a non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, world-wide, irrevocable license to reproduce, transmit, display, disclose, and otherwise use your Communications on the Site or elsewhere for our business purposes.

Ideal social media user (company perspective)

I’ve also been wary, for example, of a new initiative by Google called Be Internet Awesome. My wariness comes not from the content of the site — which is centered around teaching young people privacy and responsible use of technology and more, all of which I agree with, and a look at the curriculum there shows some positive thoughts about approaching these topics with students  — but more about the way Google is designed as a company to use our data against us, by selling us to the highest advertising bidders.

When Google is your teacher

Isn’t it a bit ironic that Google is both teaching young people to be on the alert and also, the one they need to be on the alert for? How many educators will use this site but not make visible how Google’s business model works and how we “trade” our privacy for access to information?

We owe it to our kids to make as much of this visible as we can. It doesn’t mean not using Google Apps for Education (which my district does and which we use all the time, and which has opened up lots of doors for my young writers) or even Turnitin and its ilk (although you might want to dive deeper into terms of service to make sure you and your kids know what’s what) and others.

The Digital Pedagogy piece includes this graphic of questions to ponder before entering a contract:

We should not enter into the World of EdTech with blinders on. Most “tech solutions” are built to make money, not serve in the best interests of our students, no matter how glossy and pretty their advertising is. The business plan is often what matters most, and all but a few business plans are built around profit.

Young users are most vulnerable, I think, because they trust that the adults (teachers, administrators, etc.) who bring them into technology apps and sites know what they are doing, have done their homework, and have their best intentions at heart. The vulnerability comes because not all of those assumptions happen, and because companies like Google understand the long game — hook young users now and make money for decades to come.

Peace (not for sale),

One Comment
  1. This post has made me think of tools that are loosely integrated into the LMS I support. VoiceThread for example….it is part of the LMS or is it? All the data is on VT servers. At least they provide an export to MP4 option but it occurs to me that this is not a Tip Sheet I’ve created for the academics to consider this aspect for students once they have completed a subject.

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