With all that has come to light about Facebook in recent weeks, it has many people considering the privacy of the data we share online. The information we share can reveal a lot about us. It can also be a tool to better advertise to us and even to shape the type of news we see.
As adults, we can read about privacy and make informed decisions on how much or how little we share. But what resources can we give our students to help them understand the power of their personal information? Equally important: how can we make sure our students’ data is safe when they use ed tech apps and tools at school?
Safeguarding Student Data
Technology can open up the classroom walls and provide incredible, expansive opportunities for students. However, opening the classroom walls shouldn’t mean eliminating safeguards for students. Protecting students’ data is extremely important for both ethical and legal reasons. Apps, websites, and tools that students use every day may collect information about their users. It is important to vet the tools you use and their privacy policies to make sure they adhere to school policies and federal and state laws.
Understanding the Law
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) limits what information companies can collect from children under the age of 13. It requires companies to provide clear privacy notices and to obtain parental consent before collecting information. School officials can provide this consent in lieu of a parent if the product is used purely for educational purposes. The company can then collect information only for educational, not for commercial, reasons.
Learn more about COPPA and how it can affect students and educators.
Modeling Good Privacy Practices
In addition to vetting products your school uses, you can also help guard student privacy both in and outside of school by encouraging them to be canny digital citizens. For example, if a student recommends an app or program or uses one for a project, ask them to tell you about what data they have shared. Here are some questions to have them consider:
- What data did you have to provide when you created an account?
- Do you know if your information is shared with a third party?
Encouraging students to be curious and to seek out new tech tools is important, but so too is making them think carefully about what they choose to share about themselves and with whom. Empower your students to vet the tools they find and to make good choices for themselves about who can access their information.
- Common Sense Media has a Privacy Evaluation Initiative that works with software developers to bring greater transparency in privacy policies and the evaluating of ed tech tools.
- Connect Safely has an Educator’s Guide to Student Data Privacy with a great list of questions to quickly evaluate whether an app, website, or product will protect student information.
- iKeepSafe provides a list of resources that have achieved the COPPA Safe Harbor certification.
- The US Department of Education provides Student Privacy 101 to help navigate this important issue.
You can also read more about student data privacy on the TechNotes blog here.
We live in an age of information. Short of going off the grid, it’s impossible not to have at least some of our data online somewhere. But by staying vigilant and being knowledgeable, we can make sure our students’ privacy is protected.