When I first started teaching twenty years ago there was a lot of talk about marketing to kids in schools. Debates emerged in schools, at school boards and in newspapers about things such such as Coke giving away sports score boards to schools. Of course these score boards had a Coke ad on them. Schools and school divisions were caught in a moral quandary. They wanted the score boards, but they questioned whether they were willing to have an ad in their gym to get one.
This all seems so quaint now.
Apps and browsers and Google accounts continually collect data on users. Where you surf and what you search for is much more valuable data to a company then putting an ad on a scoreboard.
This is the web today. All you need to do to frighten the hell out of yourself is install a browser add-on like Lightbeam or Ghostery to see all of the trackers that are operating on websites. But this isn’t a tinfoil hat post. I’m not advocating for moving our kids offline. But I do want us to take the time to think about our role as educators in helping companies to collect data about the kids in our classrooms.
Most of the kids we have in our classrooms are minors under the law. What legal responsibility do we have to keep their data safe and secure while they are in our buildings or using devices we have supplied? First of all, given the choice, I would always argue for connectivity choices that are not hosted on corporate platforms. I also wonder about our responsibility and the morality of introducing our kids’ identities to the corporate-surveillance ecosystem simply by signing them up for something like a Google account. Is this not similar to handing over their identity to a direct advertising company? Would we do that in a school?
A few scenarios to consider:
- how long will it be until a school district, short of money, will sign an online marketing deal filling school division intranets, portals and email accounts with marketing?
- what happens when a school district signs a deal with a corporation (Facebook, Google, etc) to sell their students data? (A Dutch student has already sold his own data, how long until this begins happening on a larger scale?)
- what will happen when a parent becomes upset with advertising and marketing that a student accesses at school and sues the school district or demands that their child not be exposed to questionable material during school hours?
What is the data of our students worth to them and their families? What is it worth to schools? What is it worth to corporations?
As the tools become more ubiquitous, we need to be constantly asking critical questions.