Home Advocacy Top Five Questions About App Data Privacy

Top Five Questions About App Data Privacy

by Dr. Bruce Ellis
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In our society, few folks actually take the time to read the terms of service before installing apps on their devices. This is true for students and adults alike. If we find an app that looks like it will meet a need, we typically install it without considering what we might be giving up. Here are five questions to ask before installing apps, and then we’ll look at several helpful resources to expand your understanding of the critical nature of data privacy.

Q1:Does the app developer clearly state what data they collect and how they use that data on its website?
Q2:Does the app developer share what permissions are granted to use the app BEFORE installing the app?
Q3:Does the app identify a relatively recent date of its last update?
Q4:Does the app developer give information on their website if they handle data in accordance with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the Children Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)?
Q5:Does the app developer allow you to request that your personal data be removed?

Asking these five questions while searching for and researching apps will help you choose ones that are in alignment with your safety concerns for your students. If you don’t find the answer to any of these five questions on their app’s website, developer’s page, or privacy policy page, take the initiative to contact them and ask.

If you realize that these five questions reveal you need to brush up on data privacy concerns, here are some resources to help bring you up to speed. These resources make the biggest impact when you provide opportunities for discussion with peers, parents, and leaders in your school/district.

Data Quality Campaign

The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) is a national nonprofit policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that education data works for individuals, families, educators, communities, and policymakers. They provide many helpful resources that you might consider sharing with your peers, parents, and leaders in your district.

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Encryption is a common method often used to protect sensitive student information. Encryption is a common security practice, but privacy policies rarely mention it. Most commonly, encryption is mentioned in connection with billing information. Without examining its policy, there is no way to tell which data a service encrypts. De-identification is another important aspect of student data privacy on apps. Almost half of the privacy policies mention de-identification as a primary reason for collecting data. These policies are almost exclusively used for analyzing user behavior and reporting on student performance within districts.

If you are looking for more information or need help, go to Terms of Service; Didn’t Read. They may have reviewed the app already. If not, you can submit a request to help answer your question.

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Parental Responsibility in Data Privacy

Parental responsibility for student privacy is a crucial responsibility. In addition to protecting their children’s privacy, parents must educate themselves about the technology their children are using. If parents allow their children to use technology without parental supervision, they could be agreeing to data tracking. In addition to educating themselves, parents should always check the privacy practices of the websites and apps they use. By ensuring these services are transparent about their data collection practices, parents can rest assured that their children’s privacy is protected.

Parents who want to learn more about taking a proactive role in protecting children’s privacy can go to one of these sites for relevant help.

  • Connect Safely – A nonprofit dedicated to educating users of connected technology about safety, privacy, and security. You can easily explore information sorted by topics and access quick guides, news, and podcasts on their website.
  • Parent Coalition for Student Privacy – This coalition focuses on being advocates with parents in helping keep their child’s data safe. Check out their website for an interactive state student privacy report card, an educator toolkit, and a parent toolkit.
  • The Education Cooperative – Helpful information to support parents in understanding legal issues such as COPPA, PPRA, CIPA, and FERPA and how it relates to the safety of their child.
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Teacher Responsibility

Teachers, too, need to educate themselves about the privacy practices of third-party developers. Connecticut has passed a law establishing a task force to study student data privacy on apps. The task force will explore whether local boards of education should adopt data contracting policies, and they will train employees on best practices. The law will also develop a list of websites and software approved by the state and approved by school districts. By providing more information about the privacy practices of third-party providers, parents will feel more comfortable with these platforms.

Each district is responsible for managing student data generated within the school environment and on school devices. The following points can help teachers know how they play a critical role in ensuring student safety. Ignorance of your responsibilities as an educator does not protect you. Seek out the information to be an informed and proactive educator and advocate for your students.

  • Contact your Technology Department and ask where they provide training for educators on digital citizenship, student online safety, and best practices in relation to using apps and digital devices in the classroom.
  • Contact your Professional Development Department (or HR) to find out what resources are available to help teachers better understand their role when using technology with students.
  • Contact your local educational service center (or state education association) for information on student data privacy they’ve already prepared and made available. Sometimes this is posted on their respective websites; sometimes, you will need to call and track down the person with the information.

While most students are comfortable sharing their social-emotional learning survey results, they may be less comfortable sharing their social-emotional learning results with a school or other third party, for example. Regardless of the level of privacy concerns, a student’s privacy is the most important thing parents, teachers, schools, and he or she can protect.

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