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Can Schools Search Students’ Phones?

Are students' personal cellphones and devices subject to searches at school? That's the question some states are beginning to address with legislation, writes Ariel Fox Johnson, senior counsel for policy and privacy at Common Sense Media, who urges school leaders to provide clarity on policies regarding students' devices. While the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that police need a warrant to search a cell phone, there has been a little more leeway when it comes to schools. If a student, parent or teacher were to challenge a search, the court must consider why the search was undertaken and if the search’s scope was reasonably related to the circumstances that led to the search in the first place. For example, if a student has video of a disagreement between a student and a teacher in a classroom, it would not be reasonable for a search to be done of all the e-mails on the child’s phone, whereas a search of other videos might be warranted. Do you know what your state’s or district’s policies are on searching students’ digital devices?

Windows 10 and Macintosh Operating System Tools for Keeping Track of Children Online

Did you know there are tools already part of your computer’s operating system for keeping track of how much time your children play games and do other things online? Detailed instructions on how to find those free tools and use them for both the Windows 10 and the Macintosh operating system are part of a recent Personal Tech blog post in The New York Times. You can keep track of what games, apps, and websites your children visit and how much time they spend on each, and even check out what keywords they are searching for in your browser. You can also set limits on your children’s screen time.

New Rating System for Education Apps Stresses Privacy

Common Sense Media has released a three-tiered privacy-rating system for education apps covered on its website. The company consulted with students, parents, teachers, developers and other stakeholders when developing the system, which includes "not recommended," "use with caution" and "use responsibly."

When Are Kids Instagram Ready?

Want to be the one to introduce the ins and outs of social media to your kids? Follow the adventures of one parent in doing so in a Well Family post on the New York Times site. And think about the advice the author offers about how to how to have a “social media talk” (akin to the “birds and the bees talk”) with your kids, as well as, ideas for when to create a usage “contract,” monitor use, and remain open to learning from kids about global connectivity.

Identity Theft for Minors a Growing Problem

Does your toddler already have a credit issue? With so many credit bureaus using nothing but social security numbers as the way to verify a person’s identity, they could. Now many young people are finding out the hard way that they have a credit problem, because often someone in their own family used their identity to open credit card and other accounts. This form of identity theft is often not malicious. Sometimes, it’s being done in a pinch by desperate parents who are trying to make an emergency repair or get the lights turned back on. Estranged family members and hackers have also been known to use this means to gain access to credit in another person’s name.

Doing a Finsta

Here is another vocabulary word for your ongoing discussions with your teen about the world of social media, “Finsta.” In the same kind of move that teens have employed for years on Facebook, creating one Facebook page for public consumption and another for their more private revelations, teens who want to post more freely on Instagram start fake, secret accounts known as "Finstas”. This is a combo of the words “fake” and “Instagram.” Teen’s Finsta accounts are typically more unfiltered than their regular Instagram accounts, and are designed to get around those parental and teacher warnings about being careful what you post because school and college administrators, parents, potential employers and others could view it. The term has been around a while but because Instagram seems to be the hotbed of cyberbullying these days, it has surfaced once again.


On the positive side, such acts of digital self-surveillance make sense against the backdrop of widespread media coverage of social media gaffes that teens have probably heard about or witnessed. This includes employees losing their jobs after publishing a distasteful image or a tactless tweet, or a teen losing a spot on a sports team, or a school leadership role because of sexually charged or derogatory items they posted online. But at its worst, Finsta accounts warp into a space where anonymous users hide scandalous or sexual behavior or partake in cyberbullying.


One other thing that you and your teens should know is that even if what a user posts is part of a private Finsta account with an anonymous username, account creators can be traced back by analyzing followers and Instagram activity. And those seemingly private posts can easily surface online if anyone takes a screenshot or records a video of the content. Once again, it can be very difficult to hide even in the seemingly anonymous online world.

Connected Toy Company to Pay Privacy Fine

The Federal Trade Commission said online connected toy company VTech will pay a $650,000 settlement in a case in which children's email addresses and other data were gathered via online platforms called Planet VTech and apps like Kid Connect and then were hacked in November 2015. This is the FTC's first case involving toys that are connected back to the toy company online.


While both the online platform and apps are now defunct, VTech was accused of violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires companies to obtain parents' consent before collecting personal data about their children under the age of 13. That law also requires companies to post privacy policies that offer complete descriptions about the data that is collected and give information about reviewing or deleting that data. The children's privacy law also requires companies to use reasonable data security practices to protect personal data.

Use of Recording Devices By Students in Schools in Question

The 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston is expected to take up a case regarding a Maine student's right to carry an audio-recording device in school. The student in question has autism and a neurological syndrome that affects his speech and he cannot talk to his parents about his school day so the family is fighting for the right for him to carry an “always on” recording device to ensure he is being properly treated during the school day. In other states, parents of special education students have secretly placed audio recorders on their children to expose abuse, which have led to firings or settlements. Opponents say though that this raises serious privacy concerns for other students and that it would actually be “disruptive and detrimental” to his education.


Especially now that every cell phone has a recording option, you may be wondering is it legal for a student to record a teacher? That may depend on whether you live in a one party or two party consent state. While federal law allows for recordings as long as one party to the conversation consents (known as "one-party consent"), several states have stricter recording laws. California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington all require every party to a conversation to consent to recording (known as "two-party consent"). Most states make illegal recordings a felony. For instance Florida's wiretap law makes illegal recordings a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. If you live in a one-party consent state, you (or your children) are probably OK recording a teacher or professor as long as you are present in the class, since you're a party to the conversation and by your action have given your consent to be recording. If you're in a two-party consent state, or are placing a secret recorder on your child, things may get a little trickier. Of course the easiest way to get around the issue may be to let everyone know you are recording, but as these parents in Maine are finding out even that may not satisfy everyone. If you or your children are thinking of doing any kind of recording at school or at college, be sure to check with the institution first.

Assuring Student Data is Protected – 3 Tips

No one is more concerned about the security of student data than parents. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy had this in mind when they created its Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy, a set of guidelines that parents and school administrators can reference. An article summarizing what is in that very complete kit appears on the EdTech Magazine site entitled “ 3 Tips to Keep Parents Assured that Student Data is Protected.” The article reminds both parents and schools that the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gives parents discretion over the types of data about their children that can be used. The writers also remind parents that while teachers can help students recognize that there are consequences to the actions they take online, parents modeling good digital citizenship is by far the most important influencer.

Want to Roomba? Look Out, Your Privacy May Be Showing

Dust isn’t the only thing your Roomba is taking in…it is also recording maps of your house. Although the company is adamant that they take customer privacy very seriously and will always ask customers to opt-in to allow the storage of this information, there are of course critics who are raising concerns, especially in light of discussions about the data being sold to tech giants such as Google, Apple and Amazon. While this kind of data collection may be concerning, it is important for customers to understand why the data is collected and how it is being used in order to make an informed decision, as this kind of data is often necessary for establishing Smart Home networks.

Student Data Privacy – Learning Your Rights

Are you wondering what happens to data collected on your child at school? Do you know what data is collected, why, or how it is protected? One resource available online that can be useful in learning the rights of parents and guardians as part of the information gathering process is the Data Quality Campaign site

Your Cell Number – Are You Sharing It Too Freely?

Here’s a bad piece of news. Our cell phone numbers becoming a lot like Social Security numbers: they are the gateway to our identities, providing an entrance to personal data – your email address, physical address, even physical whereabouts—and all the personal information that is kept about you by nearly all corporations, financial institutions, and social media networks. Yet when we are asked for our cell numbers for whatever reason, we often give them out without even a second thought.  What can you do? Take a look at these tips and use common sense. If you are asked for your phone number, it never hurts to ask why.

Do Students Have a Right to Data and Social Media Privacy?

Many students and their parents are unaware of how schools or third-party companies are using their data -- or that it is being tracked at all. A list of the State Student Privacy Laws that have been passed is available on the The Education Privacy Resource Center site along with other resources for parents, students and educators. Also at issue is what happens to privacy on school issued laptops. Legislatures need to address this issue by looking into laws surrounding social media privacy, one-to-one devices, student information and learning management systems, and educational apps. There is also the question of how this applies to the personal technologies students bring with them to school.

How students use their own devices during personal time is subject to scrutiny by school officials as well. Social media continues to be a contentious space with murky boundaries between what’s public and private. “Is it important that students are able to use social media to engage in private conversations that are not known to the world? Yes, that is very important. Otherwise, you are depriving students of what may be one of the most critical first amendment vehicles of the 21st century,” says the America Civil Liberties Union’s Advocacy and Policy Counsel, Chad A. Marlow, speaking on social media rights for students.

Does your child use a school issued laptop or tablet? Do you know how their privacy rights are protected? Do you know what information is being collected about them? These are questions you may want to ask your school officials.

Privacy and Internet Safety Q. and A.

Where should you look when a question comes up at home about setting parental controls or whether you should post those pictures of your kids online? Try the Privacy and Internet Safety section of the Common Sense Media site. While there are research articles all over the web with information on this subject, this section covers a wide range of topics and is something you might want to add to your browser’s bookmarks for quick reference.

Tips for Combating Hackers on Connected Devices

Teaching kids about the security vulnerabilities with Internet of Things (IoT) devices can help them avoid falling prey to hackers, writes Jacob Batchelor in an article entitled You've Been Hacked! Explaining Cybersecurity to Students in an Interconnected Era. Batchelor explains ways to introduce the problem of hacking to kids, help them recognize the problem of IoT hacks, and show them what they can do to protect their privacy. Experts predict that in just a few years, interconnected devices such as refrigerators, baby monitors, toys, Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, will number in the billions.

Would You Pay a Ransom for Your Data?

A recent survey administered by Carbon Black looks at consumers’ responses to ransomware, and you may find the results surprising. The study found that if hacked, 52% of consumers would shell out a ransom for their data, and 12% would pay $500 or more. It was also found that consumers are less trusting of retailers with their data than they are of banks and health care providers. Furthermore, the majority of consumers believe the responsibility is on the individual businesses to keep their data safe, ahead of cybersecurity companies/cybersecurity software vendors, software providers (Microsoft, Apple, Google, etc.), and government organizations (FBI, NSA, CIA, etc.).

Your Kid’s Privacy and Why You Need To Care About It

Let’s not fool ourselves, the Internet is a downright scary place, and because of its universal nature, the whole world – the good and bad parts – are at your door every single day. What can you do to protect the privacy of your children? A recent article on the Common Sense Media site entitled 7 Reasons Parents Should Care About Kids and Online Privacy outlines privacy invasion situations every parent needs to be prepared for and offers common sense tips on how to handle them.

Harvard Rescinds Admission To Students After Explicit Posts on Facebook

This generation going off to college next fall may be “digital natives,” but some of them certainly have a lot to learn yet about digital etiquette, safety, and privacy.  Harvard College canceled admission offers to at least ten prospective students of the Class of 2021 because of racist and sexually explicit memes they posted in a private Facebook chat, according to the a recent report. The individuals were informed in April that their admissions offers to the prestigious Ivy League institution were under review, then later rescinded, because they had posted memes mocking the Holocaust, sexual assault and child abuse, among other topics, in a private Facebook messaging group that was formed late last year, according to The Harvard Crimson. This incident certainly should be part of all parents’ discussion about how nothing you post is really private online and anything you post, no matter how exclusive the group, can come back to haunt you.

Pet’s Names Passwords – It Better Be a Good One!

Is your pet’s name your “usual” password online? If so, you are not alone - but in using your pet’s name or some variation of it, you may make it easier for hackers to access to your online accounts. To bring awareness to this issue, behavioral biometrics company, BehavioSec, teamed up with animal charity Bideawee to highlight five adoptable pets with hacker-proof names that are easy to remember, because as the cartoon of a man introducing his son to the new family puppy on the BehavioSec site points out “You can name her whatever you like, but be sure it is something you can remember. You’ll be using it as a security question answer for the rest of your life.” 

Tips for Guarding Against Ransomware

A report from Kaspersky Lab has revealed that mobile ransomware attacks increased globally during the first quarter of 2017 by 253%, evidenced by the recent WannaCry attack, and with the US being hit the hardest. Four ways users can better protect themselves are outlined in an article on the TechRepublic site, and includes advice such as doing regular scans on devices to check for infection and never entering personal information into a website that seems at all suspicious. Additional tips for protecting yourself were also recently discussed in an article in the Tech Section of The New York Times entitled How to Protect Yourself From Ransomware Attacks.