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Data Privacy, Technology Tools and Homework Projects

Let’s say your child wants to use a technology tool for a homework project but the program or app is not approved by your school district. Where do you start in helping them get permission? Usually, as long as the technology is being used strictly outside the classroom and your child has their parents permission, there is no issue. But in this day and age of concern about data privacy, if your child suggests a tool that might good for the whole class to use, it is important for you to know about how schools think about these kinds of issues. The Educator’s Guide to Student Data Privacy on the Connect Safely site can give you the kind of insight on issues and concerns that might come up especially if you encounter a teacher who is less than excited about the use of technology in the classroom.

Should Schools Track What Students Type?

As reported by Quartz, some schools are tracking, word for word, anything an individual student types on a school computer using safety management platforms (SMPs), such as Gaggle, Securly, and GoGuardian. These platforms use natural language to scan each document looking for words or phrases that might indicate bullying, violent or self-harm behavior, sending flagged documents to a team of humans to review. The practice, however, is raising questions about how to balance school safety and students' privacy. Critics say that this kind of surveillance, even if students understand this kind of scrutiny is in place, normalizes a “Big Brother” state depriving students of the chance to control their own data. How is your school handling this issue?

Should Schools Sell Ad Space in Emails?

Response has been mixed to a Florida school district's plan to sell ad space in emails that go to students, parents and teachers. The school board approved the program, aimed at raising funds for student travel, but some teachers were not happy to learn that school emails would be used for solicitation purposes. How would you feel if your district instituted such a policy?

Your School’s Social Media Policy

Getting parental input in creating a social media policy will allow schools to support the proper use of social networks and guard against potential privacy violations, writes Common Sense Media's Jeff Knutson in a commentary in T.H.E. Journal. Knutson outlines important things to include when drafting such a policy, such as parent opt-out forms and establishing teacher and student guidelines for protecting and respecting student privacy.

How to Keep Facebook From Bringing Back Bad Memories

Facebook’s “Memories” feature is a cute way to reminisce on fun times and take a look back at how your children have grown over the years, but what about those posts (or people) you don’t want to remember?

To filter out someone you don’t wish to see in these nostalgia posts, point your browser to When you land on the page, click the Preferences button. In the box that appears, click the Edit button next to People and enter the names you wish to filter out. You can also filter out events on certain dates.

Facial Recognition Software – Not Yet Up to Snuff?

Some schools are going to be testing out facial recognition software this next school year as a school security measure. Privacy experts have complained that the software does not do a good job especially with the faces of teen girls and minorities. Apparently it can also have trouble with other more familiar faces as well.  In a test of Amazon’s facial recognition software, the American Civil Liberties Union ran photos of members of Congress against a database of 25,000 mugshots. The software concluded that 28 of the lawmakers were criminals, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Amazon said the software, which is being tested by police departments, was a tool and not a final authority. Just good to know if your school tries out this technology this fall.

Who is Tracking Your Use of Your School’s Website?

Education technology expert Douglas Levin recently revealed findings that are not sitting well with privacy advocates. A recent NY Times article cites Levin’s study in stating that most public  while you are on it you are likely being tracked. All but one public-school website out of 159 examined by Levin were found to have some type of ad tracking or online surveillance technology embedded in them (placed there by the company who sold the software to the school), meaning that based on what you look at, that information may be sold to outside third parties who will then push ads and other information your way. While this kind of tracking is considered fair game by some, others have raised concerns about data privacy including the fact that children may be being tracked illegally while on a school’s website retrieving information about mundane things such as a homework assignment.

Facial-Recognition Tech For School Security Raises Questions

The Associated Press is reporting that some companies are offering US schools free facial-recognition software that is also used on city streets and among government agencies and businesses. At odds with this move, digital-rights advocacy groups are expressing concerns about the software's effects on privacy, and the New York Civil Liberties Union has asked the state's education officials to prevent schools' implementation of the software. Others question the technology’s cost and effectiveness, given reports like one released in February by MIT and Stanford University that found some facial recognition programs don’t work well in correctly identifying people who belong to racial minorities or women.

Dealing with an Online Scam Involving An Old Password of Yours

A recent email hack includes information including an old password you might have once, making you believe they have information on you. These sorts of online extortion schemes — which try to guilt people into paying off hackers claiming to have compromising information — are nothing new. As for the inclusion of a real password, after years of database breaches from major sites and services like Yahoo, eBay, Sony PlayStation and dozens of other companies, varying amounts of people’s data are floating around the internet, often for sale on the black market. That data is now being integrated into traditional phishing scams.

According to the Krebs on Security blog, several recipients of this particular blackmail campaign observed that the password included in the message was old, some by about a decade, and not currently in use. For those who haven’t changed their passwords in years, the ruse could appear more realistic, and the hustle itself may become fine-tuned as the perpetrators weave in fresher bits of stolen user data.  Important to keep in mind for yourself, but also for discussing with your children who may fall prey to these schemes as well. Remembering to update your passwords frequently is a good security practice. You can also report phishing incidents on the F.B.I.’s Internet Crime Complaint Center site.

Cyberattacks May Increase Warn Feds

Cyberattacks against the US are on the rise and have reached a critical point,” said Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats recently. Coats identified China, Iran, North Korea and Russia as the biggest threats, saying that they target federal agencies, state and local governments, businesses and even schools every day.