Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources
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Do Reading Logs Ruin Reading? // The Atlantic

Do Reading Logs Ruin Reading? // The Atlantic | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

"...Rather than creating a new generation of pleasure-readers, forcing kids to keep track of their reading time can turn it into a chore."...

By Erica Reischer

"Children who read regularly for pleasure, who are avid and self-directed readers, are the holy grail for parents and educators. Reading for pleasure has considerable current and future benefits: Recreational readers tend to have higher academic achievement and greater economic success, and even display more civic-mindedness.


But recreational reading is on the decline. According to a National Endowment for the Arts report based on longitudinal data from a series of large, national surveys, the rate at which teens voluntarily read for pleasure has declined by 50 percent over the last 20 years. Reading now competes for children’s time with many other alluring activities, including television, social media, and video games. Most leisure time is now spent in front of a screen.


To ensure that kids are spending at least some time every day reading, classrooms across the country have instituted student reading logs, which typically require kids to read for a certain amount of time—about 20 minutes—each night at home and then record the book title and number of pages read. In some cases, parents must also sign this log before their child turns it in to the teacher."...



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Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources
This curated collection includes news, resources, and research related to the intersections of Educational Psychology and Technology. The page also serves as a research tool to organize online content. A similar curation of posts may also be found at  The grey funnel shaped icon at the top allows for searching by keyword. For research more specific to tech, screen time and health/safety concerns, please see:, to learn about the next wave of privatization involving technology intersections with Pay For Success,  Social Impact Bonds, and Results Based Financing (often marketed with language promoting 'public-private-partnerships'), see, and for additional Educator Resources, please visit [Links to an external site].
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When "Innovation" is Exploitation: Data Ethics, Data Harms and Why We Need to Demand Data Justice // Marachi, 2019, Summer Institute of A Black Education Network 

To download pdf, please click on title or arrow above.


For more on the data brokers selling personal information from a variety of platforms, including education, please see: 


Please also visit: Parent Coalition for Student Privacy


the Data Justice Lab:


and the Algorithmic Justice League:  


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Report – Hidden Harms: The Misleading Promise of Monitoring Students Online // Center for Democracy and Technology 

Report – Hidden Harms: The Misleading Promise of Monitoring Students Online // Center for Democracy and Technology  | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

By Elizabeth Laird, Hugh Grant-Chapman, Cody Venzke, Hannah Quay-de la Vallee


"The pressure on schools to keep students safe, especially to protect them physically and support their mental health, has never been greater. The mental health crisis, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and concerns about the increasing number of school shootings have led to questions about the role of technology in meeting these goals. From monitoring students’ public social media posts to tracking what they do in real-time on their devices, technology aimed at keeping students safe is growing in popularity. However, the harms that such technology inflicts are increasingly coming to light. 


CDT conducted survey research among high school students and middle and high school parents and teachers to better understand the promise of technologies aimed at keeping students safe and the risks that they pose, as reported by those most directly interacting with such tools. In particular, the research focused on student activity monitoring, the nearly ubiquitous practice of schools using technology to monitor students’ activities online, especially on devices provided by the school. CDT built on its previous research, which showed that this monitoring is conducted primarily to comply with perceived legal requirements and to keep students safe. While stakeholders are optimistic that student activity monitoring will keep students safe, in practice it creates significant efficacy and equity gaps: 

  • Monitoring is used for discipline more often than for student safety: Despite assurances and hopes that student activity monitoring will be used to keep students safe, teachers report that it is more frequently used for disciplinary purposes in spite of parent and student concerns. 

  • Teachers bear considerable responsibility but lack training for student activity monitoring: Teachers are generally tasked with responding to alerts generated by student activity monitoring, despite only a small percentage having received training on how to do so privately and securely. 

  • Monitoring is often not limited to school hours despite parent and student concerns: Students and parents are the most comfortable with monitoring being limited to when school is in session, but monitoring frequently occurs outside of that time frame. 

  • Stakeholders demonstrate large knowledge gaps in how monitoring software functions: There are significant gaps between what teachers report is communicated about student activity monitoring, often via a form provided along with a school-issued device, and what parents and students retain and report about it. 

Additionally, certain groups of students, especially those who are already more at risk than their peers, disproportionately experience the hidden harms of student activity monitoring: 

  • Students are at risk of increased interactions with law enforcement: Schools are sending student data collected from monitoring software to law enforcement officials, who use it to contact students. 

  • LGBTQ+ students are disproportionately targeted for action: The use of student activity monitoring software is resulting in the nonconsensual disclosure of students’ sexual orientation and gender identity (i.e., “outing”), as well as more LGBTQ+ students reporting they are being disciplined or contacted by law enforcement for concerns about committing a crime compared to their peers. 

  • Students’ mental health could suffer: While students report they are being referred to school counselors, social workers, and other adults for mental health support, they are also experiencing detrimental effects from being monitored online. These effects include avoiding expressing their thoughts and feelings online, as well as not accessing important resources that could help them. 

  • Students from low-income families, Black students, and Hispanic students are at greater risk of harm: Previous CDT research showed that certain groups of students, including students from low-income families, Black students, and Hispanic students, rely more heavily on school-issued devices. Therefore, they are subject to more surveillance and the aforementioned harms, including interacting with law enforcement, being disciplined, and being outed, than those using personal devices. 

Given that the implementation of student activity monitoring falls short of its promises, this research suggests that education leaders should consider alternative strategies to keep students safe that do not simultaneously put students’ safety and well-being in jeopardy.

See below for our complete report, summary brief, and in-depth research slide deck. For more information, see our letter calling for action from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights — jointly signed by multiple civil society groups — as well as our related press release and recent blog post discussing findings from our parent and student focus groups.

Read the full report here.

Read the summary brief here.

Read the research slide deck here.

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Los Angeles Unified, Feds Investigating As Ransomware Attack Cripples IT Systems //  THE Journal 

Los Angeles Unified, Feds Investigating As Ransomware Attack Cripples IT Systems //  THE Journal  | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

"A ransomware attack over Labor Day weekend brought to a standstill the online systems of Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest K–12 district in the country with about 640,000 students, LAUSD officials confirmed this morning in a statement on its website."" 

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A Billion-Dollar Crypto Gaming Startup Axie Infinity (AXS) Promised Riches and Delivered Disaster // Bloomberg 

A Billion-Dollar Crypto Gaming Startup Axie Infinity (AXS) Promised Riches and Delivered Disaster // Bloomberg  | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

By Joshua Brustein
"Over the course of his life, Alejo Lopez de Armentia has played video games for a variety of reasons. There was the thrill of competition, the desire for companionship, and, at base, the need to pass the time. In his 20s, feeling isolated while working for a solar panel company in Florida, he spent his evenings using video games as a way to socialize with his friends back in Argentina, where he grew up.

But 10 months ago, Armentia, who’s 39, discovered a new game, and with it a new reason to play: to earn a living. Compared with the massively multiplayer games that he usually played, Axie Infinity was remarkably simple. Players control three-member teams of digital creatures that fight one another. The characters are cartoonish blobs distinguished by their unique mixture of interchangeable body parts, not unlike a Mr. Potato Head. During “combat” they cheerily bob in place, waiting to take turns casting spells against their opponents. When a character is defeated, it becomes a ghost; when all three squad members are gone, the team loses. A match takes less than five minutes.


Even many Axie regulars say it’s not much fun, but that hasn’t stopped people from dedicating hours to researching strategies, haunting Axie-themed Discord channels and Reddit forums, and paying for specialized software that helps them build stronger teams. Armentia, who’s poured about $40,000 into his habit since last August, professes to like the game, but he also makes it clear that recreation was never his goal. “I was actually hoping that it could become my full-time job,” he says.

The reason this is possible—or at least it seemed possible for a few weird months last year—is that Axie is tied to crypto markets. Players get a few Smooth Love Potion (SLP) tokens for each game they win and can earn another cryptocurrency, Axie Infinity Shards (AXS), in larger tournaments. The characters, themselves known as Axies, are nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, whose ownership is tracked on a blockchain, allowing them to be traded like a cryptocurrency as well.

There are various ways to make money from Axie. Armentia saw his main business as breeding, which doesn’t entail playing the game so much as preparing to play it in the future. Players who own Axies can create others by choosing two they already own to act as parents and paying a cost in SLP and AXS. Once they do this and wait through an obligatory gestation period, a new character appears with some combination of its parents’ traits.


Every new Axie player needs Axies to play, pushing up their price. Armentia started breeding last August, at a time when normal economics seemed not to apply. “You would be making 300%, 400% on your money in five days, guaranteed,” he says. “It was stupid.”

Axie’s creator, a startup called Sky Mavis Inc., heralded all this as a new kind of economic phenomenon: the “play-to-earn” video game. “We believe in a world future where work and play become one,” it said in a mission statement on its website. “We believe in empowering our players and giving them economic opportunities. Welcome to our revolution.” By last October the company, founded in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, four years ago by a group of Asian, European, and American entrepreneurs, had raised more than $160 million from investors including the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and the crypto-focused firm Paradigm, at a peak valuation of about $3 billion. That same month, Axie Infinity crossed 2 million daily users, according to Sky Mavis.


If you think the entire internet should be rebuilt around the blockchain—the vision now referred to as web3Axie provided a useful example of what this looked like in practice. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and an Axie investor, predicted that 90% of the gaming market would be play-to-earn within five years. Gabby Dizon, head of crypto gaming startup Yield Guild Games, describes Axie as a way to create an “investor mindset” among new populations, who would go on to participate in the crypto economy in other ways. In a livestreamed discussion about play-to-earn gaming and crypto on March 2, former Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang called web3 “an extraordinary opportunity to improve the human condition” and “the biggest weapon against poverty that we have.”

By the time Yang made his proclamations the Axie economy was deep in crisis. It had lost about 40% of its daily users, and SLP, which had traded as high as 40¢, was at 1.8¢, while AXS, which had once been worth $165, was at $56. To make matters worse, on March 23 hackers robbed Sky Mavis of what at the time was roughly $620 million in cryptocurrencies. Then in May the bottom fell out of the entire crypto market." ... 


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After Huge Illuminate Data Breach, Ed Tech’s ‘Student Privacy Pledge’ Under Fire // The 74

After Huge Illuminate Data Breach, Ed Tech’s ‘Student Privacy Pledge’ Under Fire // The 74 | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |
 Big Tech's self-regulatory effort has long been accused of being toothless. Is that about to change?  
By Mark Keierleber  - July 24, 2022
"A few months after education leaders at America’s largest school district announced that a technology vendor had exposed sensitive student information in a massive data breach, the company at fault — Illuminate Education — was recognized with the software industry’s equivalent of the Oscars. 


Since that disclosure in New York City schools, the scope of the breach has only grown, with districts in six states announcing that some 3 million current and former students had become victims. Illuminate has never disclosed the full extent of the blunder, even as critics decry significant harm to kids and security experts question why the company is being handed awards instead of getting slapped with sanctions. 

Amid demands that Illuminate be held accountable for the breach — and for allegations that it misrepresented its security safeguards — the company could soon face unprecedented discipline for violating the Student Privacy Pledge, a self-regulatory effort by Big Tech to police shady business practices. In response to inquiries by The 74, the Future of Privacy Forum, a think tank and co-creator of the pledge, disclosed Tuesday that Illuminate could soon get the boot.

Forum CEO Jules Polonetsky said his group will decide within a month whether to revoke Illuminate’s status as a pledge signatory and refer the matter to state and federal regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission, for possible sanctions. 

“We have been reviewing the deeply concerning circumstances of the breach and apparent violations of Illuminate Education’s pledge commitments,” Polonetsky said in a statement to The 74. 

Illuminate did not respond to interview requests. 

In a twist, the pledge was co-created by the Software and Information Industry Association, the trade group that recognized Illuminate last month as being  among “the best of the best” in education technology. The pledge, created nearly a decade ago, is designed to ensure that education technology vendors are ethical stewards of kids’ most sensitive data. Its staunchest critics have assailed the pledge as being toothless — if not an outright effort to thwart meaningful government regulation. Now, they are questioning whether its response to the massive Illuminate breach will be any different. 

“I have never seen anybody get anything more than a slap on the wrist from the actual people controlling the pledge,” said Bill FItzgerald, an independent privacy researcher. Taking action against Illuminate, he said, “would break the pledge’s pretty perfect record for not actually enforcing any kind of sanctions against bad actors.”

Through the voluntary pledge, launched in 2014, hundreds of education technology companies have agreed to a slate of safety measures to protect students’ online privacy. Pledge signatories, including Illuminatehave promised they will not sell student data to third parties or use the information for targeted advertising. Companies that sign the commitment also agree to “maintain a comprehensive security program” to protect students’ personal information from data breaches. 

The privacy forum, which is funded by tech companies, has long maintained that the pledge is legally binding and offers assurances to school districts as they shop for new technology. In the absence of a federal consumer privacy law, the forum argues the pledge grants “an important and unique means for privacy enforcement,” giving the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general an outlet to hold education technology companies accountable via consumer protection rules that prohibit unfair and deceptive business practices. 

For years, critics have accused the pledge of providing educators and parents false assurances that a given product is safe, rendering it less useful than a pinky promise. Meanwhile, schools and technology companies have become increasingly entangled — particularly during the pandemic. As districts across the globe rushed to create digital classrooms, few governments checked to make sure the tech products officials endorsed were safe for children, according to a recent report by the Human Rights Watch. Shoddy student data practices by leading tech vendors, the group found, were rampant. Of the 164 tools analyzed, 89 percent “engaged in data practices that put children’s rights at risk,” with a majority giving student records to advertisers.

As companies suck up a mind-boggling amount of student information, a lack of meaningful enforcement has let tech companies off the hook for violating students’ privacy rights, said Hye Jung Han, a Human Rights Watch researcher focused on children. As a result, she said, students whose schools require them to use certain digital tools are being forced to “give up their privacy in order to learn.” Paired with large-scale data breaches, like the one at illuminate, she said students’ sensitive records could be misused for years. 

“Children, as we know, are more susceptible to manipulation based on what they see online,” she said. “So suddenly the information that’s collected about them in the classroom is being used to determine the kinds of content and the kinds of advertising that they see elsewhere on the internet. It can absolutely start influencing their worldviews.”

But the regulatory environment under the Biden administration may be entering a new, more aggressive era. The Federal Trade Commission announced in May that it would scale up enforcement on education technology companies that sell student data for targeted advertising and that “illegally surveil children when they go online to learn.” Even absent a data breach like the one at Illuminate, the commission wrote in a policy statement, education technology providers violate the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act if they lack reasonable systems “to maintain the confidentiality, security and integrity of children’s personal information.” 

The FTC  declined to comment for this article. Jeff Joseph, president of the Software and Information Industry Association, said its recent awards were based on narrow criteria and judges “would not be expected to be aware of the breach unless the company disclosed it during the demos.” News of the breach was widely covered in the weeks before the June awards ceremony

The trade group “takes the privacy and security of student data seriously,” Joseph said in a statement, adding that the Future of Privacy Forum “maintains the day-to-day management of the pledge.” 

‘Absolutely concerning’

Concerns of a data breach at California-based Illuminate began to emerge in January when several of the privately held company’s popular digital tools, including programs used in New York City to track students’ grades and attendance, went dark. 

Yet it wasn’t until March that city leaders announced that the personal data of some 820,000 current and former students — including their eligibility for special education services and for free or reduced-price lunches — had been compromised in a data breach. In disclosing the breach, city education officials accused the company of misrepresenting its security safeguards. The Department of Education, which reportedly paid Illuminate $16 million over the last three years, told schools in May to stop using the company’s tools. 

A month later, officials at the New York State Education Department launched an investigation into whether the company’s data security practices ran afoul of state law, department officials said. Under the law, education vendors are required to maintain “reasonable” data security safeguards and must notify schools about data breaches “in the most expedient way possible and without unreasonable delay.” 

Outside New York City, state officials said the breach affected about 174,000 additional students across the state.

Doug Levin, the national director of The K12 Security Information eXchange, said the state should issue “a significant fine” to Illuminate for misrepresenting its security protocols to educators. Sanctions, he said, would “send a strong and very important signal that not only must you ensure that you have reasonable security in place, but if you say you do and you don’t, you will be penalized.” 

Meanwhile, Illuminate has since become the subject of two federal class-action lawsuits in New York and California, including one that alleges that students’ sensitive information “is now an open book in the hands of unknown crooks” and is likely being sold on the dark web “for nefarious and mischievous ends.” 

Plaintiff attorney Gary Graifman said that litigation is crucial for consumers because state attorneys general are often too busy to hold companies accountable. 

“There’s got to be some avenue of interdiction that occurs so that companies adhere to policies that guarantee people their private information will be secured,” he said. “Obviously if there is strong federal legislation that occurs in the future, maybe that would be helpful, but right now that is not the case.”

School districts in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Oklahoma and Washington have since disclosed to current and former students that their personal information had been compromised in the breach. But the full extent remains unknown because “Illuminate has been the opposite of forthcoming about what has occurred,” Levin said. 

Most states do not require companies to disclose data breaches to the public. Some 5,000 schools serving 17 million students use Illuminate tools, according to the company, which was founded in 2009.

“We now know that millions of students have been affected by this incident, from coast to coast in some of the largest school districts in the nation,” including in New York City and Los Angeles, Levin said. “That is absolutely concerning, and I think it shines a light on the role of school vendors,” who are a significant source of education data breaches. 

Nobody, including the National Security Agency, can guarantee that their cybersecurity infrastructure will hold up against motivated hackers, Levin said, but Illuminate’s failure to disclose the extent of the breach raises a major red flag. 

“The longer that Illuminate does not come clean with what’s happened, the worse it looks,” he said. “It suggests that this was maybe leaning on the side of negligence versus them being an unfortunate victim.”

‘A public relations tool’

When Illuminate signed the privacy pledge six years ago, it acknowledged the importance of protecting students’ data and said it offered a “secure online environment with data privacy securely in place.” On its website, Illuminate touts an “unwavering commitment to student data privacy,” and offers a link to the pledge. 

“By signing this pledge,” the company wrote in a 2016 blog post, “we are making a commitment to continue doing what we have already been doing from the beginning — promoting that student data be safeguarded and used for encouraging student and educator success.” 

Some pledge critics have accused tech companies of using it as a marketing tool. In 2018, a Duke Law and Technology Review report argued that pledge noncompliance was rampant and accused it of being “a mirage” that offered comfort to consumers “while providing little actual benefit.”... 


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Ransomware Attacks Against Higher Ed Increase // Inside Higher Ed

Ransomware Attacks Against Higher Ed Increase // Inside Higher Ed | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

"Colleges and universities experienced a surge in ransomware attacks in 2021, and those attacks had significant operational and financial costs, according to a new report."


By Susan D'Agostino

“You can collect that money in a couple of hours,” a ransomware hacker’s representative wrote in a secure June 2020 chat with a University of California, San Francisco, negotiator about the $3 million ransom demanded. “You need to take us seriously. If we’ll release on our blog student records/data, I’m 100% sure you will lose more than our price what we ask.”

The university later paid $1.14 million to gain access to the decryption key.

Colleges and universities worldwide experienced a surge in ransomware attacks in 2021, and those attacks had significant operational and financial costs, according to a new report from Sophos, a global cybersecurity leader. The survey included 5,600 IT professionals, including 410 from higher education, across 31 countries. Though most of the education victims succeeded in retrieving some of their data, few retrieved all of it, even after paying the ransom.


“The nature of the academic community is very collegial and collaborative,” said Richard Forno, assistant director of the University of Maryland Baltimore County Center for Cybersecurity. “There’s a very fine line that universities and colleges have to walk between facilitating academic research and education and maintaining strong security.”

That propensity of colleges to share openly and widely can make the institutions susceptible to attacks.

Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of ransomware attacks on higher ed institutions succeeded. Hackers’ efforts in other sectors were not as fruitful, including in business, health care and financial services, where respectively 68 percent, 61 percent and 57 percent of attacks succeeded. For this reason, cybercriminals may view colleges and universities as soft targets for ransomware attacks, given their above-average success rate in encrypting higher education institutions’ data.

Despite high-profile ransomware attacks such as one in 2020 that targeted UC San Francisco, higher ed institutions’ efforts to protect their networks continued to fall short in 2021."...


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'Hey Siri': Virtual assistants are listening to children and then using the data // The Conversation 

'Hey Siri': Virtual assistants are listening to children and then using the data // The Conversation  | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

Published: July 14, 2022 9.43am EDT 

By Stephen J. Neville and Natalie Coulter, York University, Canada
"In many busy households around the world, it’s not uncommon for children to shout out directives to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. They may make a game out of asking the voice-activated personal assistant (VAPA) what time it is, or requesting a popular song. While this may seem like a mundane part of domestic life, there is much more going on.


The VAPAs are continuously listening, recording and processing acoustic happenings in a process that has been dubbed “eavesmining,” a portmanteau of eavesdropping and datamining. This raises significant concerns pertaining to issues of privacy and surveillance, as well as discrimination, as the sonic traces of peoples’ lives become datafied and scrutinized by algorithms.

These concerns intensify as we apply them to children. Their data is accumulated over lifetimes in ways that go well beyond what was ever collected on their parents with far-reaching consequences that we haven’t even begun to understand.

Always listening

The adoption of VAPAs is proceeding at a staggering pace as it extends to include mobile phones, smart speakers and the ever-increasing number products that are connected to the internet. These include children’s digital toyshome security systems that listen for break-ins and smart doorbells that can pickup sidewalk conversations.

There are pressing issues that derive from the collection, storage and analysis of sonic data as they pertain to parents, youth and children. Alarms have been raised in the past — in 2014, privacy advocates raised concerns on how much the Amazon Echo was listening to, what data was being collected and how the data would be used by Amazon’s recommendation engines.

And yet, despite these concerns, VAPAs and other eavesmining systems have spread exponentially. Recent market research predicts that by 2024, the number of voice-activated devices will explode to over 8.4 billion.


Recording more than just speech

There is more being gathered than just uttered statements, as VAPAs and other eavesmining systems overhear personal features of voices that involuntarily reveal biometric and behavioural attributes such as age, gender, health, intoxication and personality.

Information about acoustic environments (like a noisy apartment) or particular sonic events (like breaking glass) can also be gleaned through “auditory scene analysis” to make judgments about what is happening in that environment.

Eavesmining systems already have a recent track record for collaborating with law enforcement agencies and being subpoenaed for data in criminal investigations. This raises concerns of other forms of surveillance creep and profiling of children and families.

For example, smart speaker data may be used to create profiles such as “noisy households,” “disciplinary parenting styles” or “troubled youth.” This could, in the future, be used by governments to profile those reliant on social assistance or families in crisis with potentially dire consequences.

There are also new eavesmining systems presented as a solution to keep children safe called “aggression detectors.” These technologies consist of microphone systems loaded with machine learning software, dubiously claiming that they can help anticipate incidents of violence by listening for signs of raising volume and emotions in voices, and for other sounds such as glass breaking.

Monitoring schools

Aggression detectors are advertised in school safety magazines and at law enforcement conventions. They have been deployed in public spaces, hospitals and high schools under the guise of being able to pre-empt and detect mass shootings and other cases of lethal violence.

But there are serious issues around the efficacy and reliability of these systems. One brand of detector repeatedly misinterpreted vocal cues of kids including coughing, screaming and cheering as indicators of aggression. This begs the question of who is being protected and who will be made less safe by its design.


Some children and youth will be disproportionately harmed by this form of securitized listening, and the interests of all families will not be uniformly protected or served. A recurrent critique of voice-activated technology is that it reproduces cultural and racial biases by enforcing vocal norms and misrecognizing culturally diverse forms of speech in relation to language, accent, dialect and slang.

We can anticipate that the speech and voices of racialized children and youth will be disproportionately misinterpreted as aggressive sounding. This troubling prediction should come as no surprise as it follows the deeply entrenched colonial and white supremacist histories that consistently police a “sonic color line.”

Sound policy

Eavesmining is a rich site of information and surveillance as children and families’ sonic activities have become valuable sources of data to be collected, monitored, stored, analysed and sold without the subject’s knowledge to thousands of third parties. These companies are profit-driven, with few ethical obligations to children and their data.

With no legal requirement to erase this data, the data accumulates over children’s lifetimes, potentially lasting forever. It is unknown how long and how far-reaching these digital traces will follow children as they age, how widespread this data will be shared or how much this data will be cross-referenced with other data. These questions have serious implications on children’s lives both presently and as they age.

There are a myriad threats posed by eavesmining in terms of privacy, surveillance and discrimination. Individualized recommendations, such as informational privacy education and digital literacy training, will be ineffective in addressing these problems and place too great a responsibility on families to develop the necessary literacies to counter eavesmining in public and private spaces.

We need to consider the advancement of a collective framework that combats the unique risks and realities of eavesmining. Perhaps the development of a Fair Listening Practice Principles — an auditory spin on the “Fair Information Practice Principles” — would help evaluate the platforms and processes that impact the sonic lives of children and families."... 


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Why We Need to Bust Some Myths about AI // Leufer (2020) // Cell Press 

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Accused of Cheating by an Algorithm, and a Professor She Had Never Met // The New York Times

Accused of Cheating by an Algorithm, and a Professor She Had Never Met // The New York Times | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

By Kashmir Hill

"A Florida teenager taking a biology class at a community college got an upsetting note this year. A start-up called Honorlock had flagged her as acting suspiciously during an exam in February. She was, she said in an email to The New York Times, a Black woman who had been “wrongfully accused of academic dishonesty by an algorithm.”


What happened, however, was more complicated than a simple algorithmic mistake. It involved several humans, academic bureaucracy and an automated facial detection tool from Amazon called Rekognition. Despite extensive data collection, including a recording of the girl, 17, and her screen while she took the test, the accusation of cheating was ultimately a human judgment call: Did looking away from the screen mean she was cheating?


The pandemic was a boom time for companies that remotely monitor test takers, as it became a public health hazard to gather a large group in a room. Suddenly, millions of people were forced to take bar exams, tests and quizzes alone at home on their laptops. To prevent the temptation to cheat, and catch those who did, remote proctoring companies offered web browser extensions that detect keystrokes and cursor movements, collect audio from a computer’s microphone, and record the screen and the feed from a computer’s camera, bringing surveillance methods used by law enforcement, employers and domestic abusers into an academic setting.


Honorlock, based in Boca Raton, Fla., was founded by a couple of business school graduates who were frustrated by classmates they believed were gaming tests. The start-up administered nine million exams in 2021, charging about $5 per test or $10 per student to cover all the tests in the course. Honorlock has raised $40 million from investors, the vast majority of it since the pandemic began.


Keeping test takers honest has become a multimillion-dollar industry, but Honorlock and its competitors, including ExamSoft, ProctorU and Proctorio, have faced major blowback along the way: widespread activismmedia reports on the technology’s problems and even a Senate inquiry. Some surveilled test takers have been frustrated by the software’s invasivenessglitchesfalse allegations of cheating and failure to work equally well for all types of people.


The Florida teenager is a rare example of an accused cheater who received the evidence against her: a 50-second clip from her hourlong Honorlock recording. She asked that her name not be used because of the stigma associated with academic dishonesty.


The teenager was in the final year of a special program to earn both her high school diploma and her associate degree. Nearly 40 other students were in the teenager’s biology class, but they never met. The class, from Broward College, was fully remote and asynchronous.

Asynchronous online education was growing even before the pandemic. It offers students a more flexible schedule, but it has downsides. Last year, an art history student who had a question about a recorded lecture tried to email his professor, and discovered that the man had died nearly two years earlier.


The Florida teenager’s biology professor, Jonelle Orridge, was alive, but distant, her interactions with students taking place by email, as she assigned readings and YouTube videos. The exam this past February was the second the teenager had taken in the class. She set up her laptop in her living room in North Lauderdale making sure to follow a long list of rules set out in the class syllabus and in an Honorlock drop-down menu: Do not eat or drink, use a phone, have others in the room, look offscreen to read notes, and so on.


The student had to pose in front of her laptop camera for a photo, show her student ID, and then pick her laptop up and use its camera to provide a 360-degree scan of the room to prove she didn’t have any contraband material. She didn’t mind any of this, she said, because she hoped the measures would prevent others from cheating.


She thought the test went well, but a few days later, she received an email from Dr. Orridge.

“You were flagged by Honorlock,” Dr. Orridge wrote. “After review of your video, you were observed frequently looking down and away from the screen before answering questions.”

She was receiving a zero on the exam, and the matter was being referred to the dean of student affairs. “If you are found responsible for academic dishonesty the grade of zero will remain,” Dr. Orridge wrote.

“This must be a mistake,” the student replied in an email. “I was not being academically dishonest. Looking down does not indicate academic dishonesty.”

‘The word of God’

The New York Times has reviewed the video. Honorlock recordings of several other students are visible briefly in the screen capture, before the teenager’s video is played.

The student and her screen are visible, as is a partial log of time stamps, including at least one red flag, which is meant to indicate highly suspicious behavior, just a minute into her test. As the student begins the exam, at 8:29 a.m., she scrolls through four questions, appearing to look down after reading each one, once for as long as 10 seconds. She shifts slightly. She does not answer any of the questions during the 50-second clip.


It’s impossible to say with certainty what is happening in the video. What the artificial intelligence technology got right is that she looked down. But to do what? She could be staring at the table, a smartphone or notes. The video is ambiguous.

When the student met with the dean and Dr. Orridge by video, she said, she told them that she looks down to think, and that she fiddles with her hands to jog her memory. They were not swayed. The student was found “responsible” for “noncompliance with directions,” resulting in a zero on the exam and a warning on her record.

“Who stares at a test the entire time they’re taking a test? That’s ridiculous. That’s not how humans work,” said Cooper Quintin, a technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization. “Normal behaviors are punished by this software.”

After examining online proctoring software that medical students at Dartmouth College claimed had wrongly flagged them, Mr. Quintin suggested that schools have outside experts review evidence of cheating. The most serious flaw with these systems may be a human one: educators who overreact when artificially intelligent software raises an alert.

“Schools seem to be treating it as the word of God,” Mr. Quintin said. “If the computer says you’re cheating, you must be cheating.”

Tess Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Honorlock, said it was not the company’s role to advise schools on how to deal with behavior flagged by its product.

“In no case do we definitively identify ‘cheaters’ — the final decision and course of action is up to the instructor and school, just as it would be in a classroom setting,” Ms. Mitchell said. “It can be challenging to interpret a student’s actions. That’s why we don’t.”


Dr. Orridge did not respond to requests for comment for this article. A spokeswoman from Broward College said she could not discuss the case because of student privacy laws. In an email, she said faculty “exercise their best judgment” about what they see in Honorlock reports. She said a first warning for dishonesty would appear on a student’s record but not have more serious consequences, such as preventing the student from graduating or transferring credits to another institution.

Who decides

Honorlock hasn’t previously disclosed exactly how its artificial intelligence works, but a company spokeswoman revealed that the company performs face detection using Rekognition, an image analysis tool that Amazon started selling in 2016. The Rekognition software looks for facial landmarks — nose, eyes, eyebrows, mouth — and returns a confidence score that what is onscreen is a face. It can also infer the emotional state, gender and angle of the face.

Honorlock will flag a test taker as suspicious if it detects multiple faces in the room, or if the test taker’s face disappears, which could happen when people cover their face with their hands in frustration, said Brandon Smith, Honorlock’s president and chief operating officer.

Honorlock does sometimes use human employees to monitor test takers; “live proctors” will pop in by chat if there is a high number of flags on an exam to find out what is going on. Recently, these proctors discovered that Rekognition was mistakenly registering faces in photos or posters as additional people in the room.

When something like that happens, Honorlock tells Amazon’s engineers. “They take our real data and use it to improve their A.I.,” Mr. Smith said.

Rekognition was supposed to be a step up from what Honorlock had been using. A previous face detection tool from Google was worse at detecting the faces of people with a range of skin tones, Mr. Smith said.

But Rekognition has also been accused of bias. In a series of studies, Joy Buolamwini, a computer researcher and executive director of the Algorithmic Justice League, found that gender classification software, including Rekognition, worked least well on darker-skinned females.


Determining a person’s gender is different from detecting or recognizing a face, but Dr. Buolamwini considered her findings a canary in a coal mine. “If you sell one system that has been shown to have bias on human faces, it is doubtful your other face-based products are also completely bias free,” she wrote in 2019.

The Times analyzed images from the student’s Honorlock video with Amazon Rekognition. It was 99.9 percent confident that a face was present and that it was sad, and 59 percent confident that the student was a man.

Dr. Buolamwini said the Florida student’s skin color and gender should be a consideration in her attempts to clear her name, regardless of whether they affected the algorithm’s performance.

“Whether it is technically linked to race or gender, the stigma and presumption placed on students of color can be exacerbated when a machine label feeds into confirmation bias,” Dr. Buolamwini wrote in an email.

The human element

As the pandemic winds down, and test takers can gather in person again, the remote proctoring industry may soon be in lower demand and face far less scrutiny. However, the intense activism around the technology during the pandemic did lead at least one company to make a major change to its product.

ProctorU, an Honorlock competitor, no longer offers an A.I.-only product that flags videos for professors to review.

“The faculty didn’t have the time, training or ability to do it or do it properly,” said Jarrod Morgan, ProctorU’s founder. A review of ProctorU’s internal data found that videos of flagged behavior were opened only 11 percent of the time.


All suspicious behavior is now reviewed by one of the company’s approximately 1,300 proctors, most of whom are based abroad in cheaper labor markets. Mr. Morgan said these contractors went through rigorous training, and would “confirm a breach” only if there was solid evidence that a test taker was receiving help. ProctorU administered four million exams last year; in analyzing three million of those tests, it found that over 200,000, or about 7 percent, involved some kind of academic misconduct, according to the company.

The teenager graduated from Broward College this month. She remains distraught at being labeled a cheater and fears it could happen again.

“I try to become like a mannequin during tests now,” she said.

Kashmir Hill is a tech reporter based in New York. She writes about the unexpected and sometimes ominous ways technology is changing our lives, particularly when it comes to our privacy. @kashhill"


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Remote learning apps shared children’s data at a ‘dizzying scale’ // The Washington Post

Remote learning apps shared children’s data at a ‘dizzying scale’ // The Washington Post | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

By Drew Harwell

"Millions of children had their online behaviors and personal information tracked by the apps and websites they used for school during the pandemic, according to an international investigation that raises concerns about the impact remote learning had on children’s privacy online.


The educational tools were recommended by school districts and offered interactive math and reading lessons to children as young as prekindergarten. But many of them also collected students’ information and shared it with marketers and data brokers, who could then build data profiles used to target the children with ads that follow them around the Web.

Those findings come from the most comprehensive study to date on the technology that children and parents relied on for nearly two years as basic education shifted from schools to homes.


Researchers with the advocacy group Human Rights Watch analyzed 164 educational apps and websites used in 49 countries, and they shared their findings with The Washington Post and 12 other news organizations around the world. The consortium, EdTech Exposed, was coordinated by the investigative nonprofit the Signals Network and conducted further reporting and technical review.

What the researchers found was alarming: nearly 90 percent of the educational tools were designed to send the information they collected to ad-technology companies, which could use it to estimate students’ interests and predict what they might want to buy.

Researchers found that the tools sent information to nearly 200 ad-tech companies, but that few of the programs disclosed to parents how the companies would use it. Some apps hinted at the monitoring in technical terms in their privacy policies, the researchers said, while many others made no mention at all.


The websites, the researchers said, shared users’ data with online ad giants including Facebook and Google. They also requested access to students’ cameras, contacts or locations, even when it seemed unnecessary to their schoolwork. Some recorded students’ keystrokes, even before they hit “submit.”

The “dizzying scale” of the tracking, the researchers said, showed how the financial incentives of the data economy had exposed even the youngest Internet users to “inescapable” privacy risks — even as the companies benefited from a major revenue stream.

“Children,” lead researcher Hye Jung Han wrote, were “just as likely to be surveilled in their virtual classrooms as adults shopping in the world’s largest virtual malls.”

School districts and the sites’ creators defended their use, with some companies saying researchers had erred by including in their study homepages for the programs, which included tracking codes, instead of limiting their analysis to the internal student pages, which they said contained fewer or no trackers. The researchers defended the work by noting that students often had to sign in on the homepages before their lessons could begin.


The coronavirus pandemic abruptly upended the lives of children around the world, shuttering schools for more than 1.5 billion students within the span of just a few weeks. Though some classrooms have reopened, tens of millions of students remain remote, and many now depend on education apps for the bulk of their school days.

Yet there has been little public discussion of how the companies that provided the programs remote schooling depends on may have profited from the pandemic windfall of student data.

The learning app Schoology, for example, says it has more than 20 million users and is used by 60,000 schools across some of the United States’ largest school districts. The study identified code in the app that would have allowed it to extract a unique identifier from the student’s phone, known as an advertising ID, that marketers often use to track people across different apps and devices and to build a profile on what products they might want to buy.


A representative for PowerSchool, which developed the app, referred all questions to the company’s privacy policy, which said it does not collect advertising IDs or provide student data to companies for marketing purposes. But the policy also says the company’s website uses third-party tools to show targeted ads to users based on their “browsing history on other websites or on other devices.” The policy did not say which third-party companies had received users’ data.

The policy also said that it “does not knowingly collect any information from children under the age of 13,” in keeping with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, the U.S. law that requires special restrictions on data collected from young children. The company’s software, however, is marketed for classrooms as early as kindergarten, which for many children starts around age 4.

The investigation acknowledged that it could not determine exactly what student data would have been collected during real-world use. But the study did reveal how the software was designed to work, what data it had been programmed to seek access to, and where that data would have been sent.


School districts and public authorities that had recommended the tools, Han wrote, had “offloaded the true costs of providing education online onto children, who were forced to pay for their learning with their fundamental rights to privacy.”

The researchers said they found a number of trackers on websites common among U.S. schools. The website of ST Math, a “visual instructional program” for prekindergarten, elementary and middle school students, was shown to have shared user data with 19 third-party trackers, including Facebook, Google, Twitter and the e-commerce site Shopify.

Kelsey Skaggs, a spokeswoman for the California-based MIND Research Institute, which runs ST Math, said in a statement that the company does not “share any personally identifiable information in student records for the purposes of targeted advertising or other commercial purposes” and does not use the same trackers on its student platform as it does on its homepage.


But the researchers said they found trackers not just on ST Math’s main site but on pages offering math games for prekindergarten and the first grade.

Google spokesperson Christa Muldoon said the company is investigating the researchers’ claims and will take action if they find any violations of their data privacy rules, which include bans on personalized ads aimed at minors’ accounts. A spokesperson for Facebook’s parent company Meta said it restricts how businesses share children’s data and how advertisers can target children and teens.

The study comes as concern grows over the privacy risks of the educational-technology industry. The Federal Trade Commission voted last week on a policy statement urging stronger enforcement of COPPA, with Chair Lina Khan arguing that the law should help “ensure that children can do their schoolwork without having to surrender to commercial surveillance practices.” 


COPPA requires apps and websites to get parents’ consent before collecting children’s data, but schools can consent on their behalf if the information is designated for educational use.

In an announcement, the FTC said it would work to “vigilantly enforce” provisions of the law, including bans against requiring children to provide more information than is needed and restrictions against using personal data for marketing purposes. Companies that break the law, it said, could face fines and civil penalties.

Clearly, the tools have wide impact. In Los Angeles, for example, more than 447,000 students are using Schoology and 79,000 are using ST Math. Roughly 70,000 students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools use Schoology.


Both districts said they’ve taken steps to limit privacy risks, with Los Angeles requiring software companies to submit a plan showing how student information will be protected while Miami-Dade said it had conducted a “thorough and extensive” evaluation process before bringing on Schoology last year.


The researchers said most school districts they examined had conducted no technical privacy evaluations before endorsing the educational tools. Because the companies’ privacy policies often obscured the extent of their monitoring, the researchers said, district officials and parents often were left in the dark on how students’ data would be collected or used.

Some popular apps reviewed by the researchers didn’t track children at all, showing that it is possible to build an educational tool without sacrificing privacy. Apps such as Math Kids and African Storybook didn’t serve ads to children, collect their identifying details, access their cameras, request more software permissions than necessary or send their data to ad-tech companies, the analysis found. They just offered simple learning lessons, the kind that students have relied on for decades.

Vivek Dave, a father of three in Texas whose company RV AppStudios makes Math Kids, said the company charges for in-app purchases on some word-search and puzzle games designed for adults and then uses that money to help build ad-free educational apps. Since launching an alphabet game seven years ago, the company has built 14 educational apps that have been installed 150 million times this year and are now available in more than 35 languages.

“If you have the passion and just try to understand them, you don’t need to do all this level of tracking to be able to connect with kids,” he said. “My first beta testers were my kids. And I didn’t want that for my kids, period.”

The researchers argued that governments should conduct data-privacy audits of children’s apps, remove the most invasive, and help guide teachers, parents and children on how best to prevent data over-collection or misuse.

Companies, they said, should work to ensure that children’s information is treated differently than everyone else’s, including by being siloed away from ads and trackers. And lawmakers should encode these kinds of protections into regulation, so the companies aren’t allowed to police themselves.

Bill Fitzgerald, a privacy researcher and former high school teacher who was not involved in the study, sees apps’ tracking of students not only as a loss of privacy but as a lost opportunity to use the best of technology for their benefit. Instead of rehashing old ways to vacuum up user data, schools and software developers could have been pursuing fresher, more creative ideas to get children excited to learn.

“We have outsourced our collective imagination and our vision as to what innovation with technology could be to third-party product offerings that aren’t remotely close to the classroom and don’t have our best interests at heart,” Fitzgerald said.

“The conversation the industry wants us to have is: What’s the harm?” he added. “The right conversation, the ethical conversation is: What’s the need? Why does a fourth-grader need to be tracked by a third-party vendor to learn math?”



Abby Rufer, a high school algebra teacher in Dallas, said she’s worked with a few of the tested apps and many others during a frustratingly complicated two years of remote education.

School districts felt pressured during the pandemic to quickly replace the classroom with online alternatives, she said, but most teachers didn’t have the time or technical ability to uncover how much data they gobbled up.

“If the school is telling you to use this app and you don’t have the knowledge that it might be recording your students’ information, that to me is a huge concern,” Rufer said.

Many of her students are immigrants from Latin America or refugees from Afghanistan, she said, and some are already fearful of how information on their locations and families could be used against them.

“They’re being expected to jump into a world that is all technological,” she said, “and for many of them it’s just another obstacle they’re expected to overcome.” 


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Ableism And Disability Discrimination In New Surveillance Technologies: How new surveillance technologies in education, policing, health care, and the workplace disproportionately harm disabled peo...

Ableism And Disability Discrimination In New Surveillance Technologies: How new surveillance technologies in education, policing, health care, and the workplace disproportionately harm disabled peo... | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

Full report – PDF 

Plain language version – PDF

By Lydia X. Z. Brown, Ridhi Shetty, Matt Scherer, and Andrew Crawford

"Algorithmic technologies are everywhere. At this very moment, you can be sure students around the world are complaining about homework, sharing gossip, and talking about politics — all while computer programs observe every web search they make and every social media post they create, sending information about their activities to school officials who might punish them for what they look at. Other things happening right now likely include:

  • Delivery workers are trawling up and down streets near you while computer programs monitor their location and speed to optimize schedules, routes, and evaluate their performance;
  • People working from home are looking at their computers while their computers are staring back at them, timing their bathroom breaks, recording their computer screens, and potentially listening to them through their microphones;
  • Your neighbors – in your community or the next one over – are being tracked and designated by algorithms targeting police attention and resources to some neighborhoods but not others;
  • Your own phone may be tracking data about your heart rate, blood oxygen level, steps walked, menstrual cycle, and diet, and that information might be going to for-profit companies or your employer. Your social media content might even be mined and used to diagnose a mental health disability.

This ubiquity of algorithmic technologies has pervaded every aspect of modern life, and the algorithms are improving. But while algorithmic technologies may become better at predicting which restaurants someone might like or which music a person might enjoy listening to, not all of their possible applications are benign, helpful, or just.

Scholars and advocates have demonstrated myriad harms that can arise from the types of encoded prejudices and self-perpetuating cycles of discrimination, bias, and oppression that may result from automated decision-makers. These potentially harmful technologies are routinely deployed by government entities, private enterprises, and individuals to make assessments and recommendations about everything from rental applications to hiring, allocation of medical resources, and whom to target with specific ads. They have been deployed in a variety of settings including education and the workplace, often with the goal of surveilling activities, habits, and efficiency.

Disabled people comprise one such community that experiences discrimination, bias, and oppression resulting from automated decision-making technology. Disabled people continually experience marginalization in society, especially those who belong to other marginalized communities such as disabled women of color. Yet, not enough scholars or researchers have addressed the specific harms and disproportionate negative impacts that surveillance and algorithmic tools can have on disabled people. This is in part because algorithmic technologies that are trained on data that already embeds ableist (or relatedly racist or sexist) outcomes will entrench and replicate the same ableist (and racial or gendered) bias in the computer system. For example, a tenant screening tool that considers rental applicants’ credit scores, past evictions, and criminal history may prevent poor people, survivors of domestic violence, and people of color from getting an apartment because they are disproportionately likely to have lower credit scores, past evictions, and criminal records due to biases in the credit and housing systems and in policing disparities.

This report examines four areas where algorithmic and/or surveillance technologies are used to surveil, control, discipline, and punish people, with particularly harmful impacts on disabled people. They include: (1) education; (2) the criminal legal system; (3) health care; and (4) the workplace. In each section, we describe several examples of technologies that can violate people’s privacy, contribute to or accelerate existing harm and discrimination, and undermine broader public policy objectives (such as public safety or academic integrity).

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Policy Statement of the Federal Trade Commission on Education Technology // FTC 

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A teen girl sexually exploited on Snapchat takes on American tech // The Washington Post 

A teen girl sexually exploited on Snapchat takes on American tech // The Washington Post  | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

A 16-year-old girl is leading a class-action lawsuit against one of the country's most popular apps — claiming its designers have done almost nothing to prevent the sexual exploitation of girls like her.


By Drew Harwell

"She was 12 when he started demanding nude photos, saying she was pretty, that he was her friend. She believed, because they had connected on Snapchat, that her photos and videos would disappear.

Now, at 16, she is leading a class-action lawsuit against an app that has become a mainstay of American teen life — claiming its designers have done almost nothing to prevent the sexual exploitation of girls like her.


Her case against Snapchat reveals a haunting story of shame and abuse inside a video-messaging app that has for years flown under lawmakers’ radar, even as it has surpassed 300 million active users and built a reputation as a safe space for young people to trade their most intimate images and thoughts.


But it also raises difficult questions about privacy and safety, and it throws a harsh spotlight on the tech industry’s biggest giants, arguing that the systems they depend on to root out sexually abusive images of children are fatally flawed.


“There isn’t a kid in the world who doesn’t have this app,” the girl’s mother told The Washington Post, “and yet an adult can be in correspondence with them, manipulating them, over the course of many years, and the company does nothing. How does that happen?”

In the lawsuit, filed Monday in a California federal court, the girl — requesting anonymity as a victim of sexual abuse and referred to only as L.W. — and her mother accuse Snapchat of negligently failing to design a platform that could protect its users from “egregious harm.”


The man — an active-duty Marine who was convicted last year of charges related to child pornography and sexual abuse in a military court — saved her Snapchat photos and videos and shared them with others around the Web, a criminal investigation found.

Snapchat’s parent company, Snap, has defended its app’s core features of self-deleting messages and instant video chats as helping young people speak openly about important parts of their lives.


In a statement to The Post, the company said it employs “the latest technologies” and develops its own software “to help us find and remove content that exploits or abuses minors.”

“While we cannot comment on active litigation, this is tragic, and we are glad the perpetrator has been caught and convicted,” Snap spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said. “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our community.”


Founded in 2011, the Santa Monica, Calif., company told investors last month that it now has 100 million daily active users in North America, more than double Twitter’s following in the United States, and that it is used by 90 percent of U.S. residents aged 13 to 24 — a group it designated the “Snapchat Generation.”

For every user in North America, the company said, it received about $31 in advertising revenue last year. Now worth nearly $50 billion, the public company has expanded its offerings to include augmented-reality camera glasses and auto-flying selfie drones.


But the lawsuit likens Snapchat to a defective product, saying it has focused more on innovations to capture children’s attention than on effective tools to keep them safe.


The app relies on “an inherently reactive approach that waits until a child is harmed and places the burden on the child to voluntarily report their own abuse,” the girl’s lawyers wrote. “These tools and policies are more effective in making these companies wealthier than [in] protecting the children and teens who use them.”

Apple and Google are also listed as defendants in the case because of their role in hosting an app, Chitter, that the man had used to distribute the girl’s images. Both companies said they removed the app Wednesday from their stores following questions from The Post.

Apple spokesman Fred Sainz said in a statement that the app had repeatedly broken Apple’s rules around “proper moderation of all user-generated content.” Google spokesman José Castañeda said the company is “deeply committed to fighting online child sexual exploitation” and has invested in techniques to find and remove abusive content. Chitter’s developers did not respond to requests for comment.


The suit seeks at least $5 million in damages and assurances that Snap will invest more in protection. But it could send ripple effects through not just Silicon Valley but Washington, by calling out how the failures of federal lawmakers to pass tech regulation have left the industry to police itself.

“We cannot expect the same companies that benefit from children being harmed to go and protect them,” Juyoun Han, the girl’s attorney, said in a statement. “That’s what the law is for.”

Brian Levine, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who studies children’s online safety and digital forensics and is not involved in the litigation, said the legal challenge adds to the evidence that the country’s lack of tech regulation has left young people at risk.


“How is it that all of the carmakers and all of the other industries have regulations for child safety, and one of the most important industries in America has next to nothing?” Levine said.


“Exploitation results in lifelong victimization for these kids,” and it’s being fostered on online platforms developed by “what are essentially the biggest toymakers in the world, Apple and Google,” he added. “They’re making money off these apps and operating like absentee landlords. … After some point, don’t they bear some responsibility?”

An anti-Facebook

While most social networks focus on a central feed, Snapchat revolves around a user’s inbox of private “snaps” — the photos and videos they exchange with friends, each of which self-destructs after being viewed.


The simple concept of vanishing messages has been celebrated as a kind of anti-Facebook, creating a low-stakes refuge where anyone can express themselves as freely as they want without worrying how others might react.

Snapchat, in its early years, was often derided as a “sexting app,” and for some users the label still fits. But its popularity has also solidified it as a more broadly accepted part of digital adolescence — a place for joking, flirting, organizing and working through the joys and awkwardness of teenage life.


In the first three months of this year, Snapchat was the seventh-most-downloaded app in the world, installed twice as often as Amazon, Netflix, Twitter or YouTube, estimates from the analytics firm Sensor Tower show. Jennifer Stout, Snap’s vice president of global public policy, told a Senate panel last year that Snapchat was an “antidote” to mainstream social media and its “endless feed of unvetted content.”


Snapchat photos, videos and messages are designed to automatically vanish once the recipient sees them or after 24 hours. But Snapchat’s carefree culture has raised fears that it’s made it too easy for young people to share images they may one day regret.

Snapchat allows recipients to save some photos or videos within the app, and it notifies the sender if a recipient tries to capture a photo or video marked for self-deletion. But third-party workarounds are rampant, allowing recipients to capture them undetected.

Parent groups also worry the app is drawing in adults looking to prey on a younger audience. Snap has said it accounts for “the unique sensitivities and considerations of minors” when developing the app, which now bans users younger than 18 from posting publicly in places such as Snap Maps and limits how often children and teens are served up as “Quick Add” friend suggestions in other users’ accounts. The app encourages people to talk with friends they know from real life and only allows someone to communicate with a recipient who has marked them as a friend.


The company said that it takes fears of child exploitation seriously. In the second half of 2021, the company deleted roughly 5 million pieces of content and nearly 2 million accounts for breaking its rules around sexually explicit content, a transparency report said last month. About 200,000 of those accounts were axed after sharing photos or videos of child sexual abuse.

But Snap representatives have argued they’re limited in their abilities when a user meets someone elsewhere and brings that connection to Snapchat. They’ve also cautioned against more aggressively scanning personal messages, saying it could devastate users’ sense of privacy and trust.

Some of its safeguards, however, are fairly minimal. Snap says users must be 13 or older, but the app, like many other platforms, doesn’t use an age-verification system, so any child who knows how to type a fake birthday can create an account. Snap said it works to identify and delete the accounts of users younger than 13 — and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, bans companies from tracking or targeting users under that age.


Snap says its servers delete most photos, videos and messages once both sides have viewed them, and all unopened snaps after 30 days. Snap said it preserves some account information, including reported content, and shares it with law enforcement when legally requested. But it also tells police that much of its content is “permanently deleted and unavailable,” limiting what it can turn over as part of a search warrant or investigation.


In 2014, the company agreed to settle charges from the Federal Trade Commission alleging Snapchat had deceived users about the “disappearing nature” of their photos and videos, and collected geolocation and contact data from their phones without their knowledge or consent.

Snapchat, the FTC said, had also failed to implement basic safeguards, such as verifying people’s phone numbers. Some users had ended up sending “personal snaps to complete strangers” who had registered with phone numbers that weren’t actually theirs.

A Snapchat representative said at the time that “while we were focused on building, some things didn’t get the attention they could have.” The FTC required the company submit to monitoring from an “independent privacy professional” until 2034.

‘Breaking point’

Like many major tech companies, Snapchat uses automated systems to patrol for sexually exploitative content: PhotoDNA, built in 2009, to scan still images, and CSAI Match, developed by YouTube engineers in 2014, to analyze videos.

The systems work by looking for matches against a database of previously reported sexual-abuse material run by the government-funded National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

But neither system is built to identify abuse in newly captured photos or videos, even though those have become the primary ways Snapchat and other messaging apps are used today.

When the girl began sending and receiving explicit content in 2018, Snap didn’t scan videos at all. The company started using CSAI Match only in 2020.

In 2019, a team of researchers at Google, the NCMEC and the anti-abuse nonprofit Thorn had argued that even systems like those had reached a “breaking point.” The “exponential growth and the frequency of unique images,” they argued, required a “reimagining” of child-sexual-abuse-imagery defenses away from the blacklist-based systems tech companies had relied on for years.

They urged the companies to use recent advances in facial-detection, image-classification and age-prediction software to automatically flag scenes where a child appears at risk of abuse and alert human investigators for further review.

“Absent new protections, society will be unable to adequately protect victims of child sexual abuse,” the researchers wrote.

Three years later, such systems remain unused. Some similar efforts have also been halted due to criticism they could improperly pry into people’s private conversations or raise the risks of a false match.


In September, Apple indefinitely postponed a proposed system — to detect possible sexual-abuse images stored online — following a firestorm that the technology could be misused for surveillance or censorship.

But the company has since released a separate child-safety feature designed to blur out nude photos sent or received in its Messages app. The feature shows underage users a warning that the image is sensitive and lets them choose to view it, block the sender or to message a parent or guardian for help.

Privacy advocates have cautioned that more-rigorous online policing could end up penalizing kids for being kids. They’ve also worried that such concerns could further fuel a moral panic, in which some conservative activists have called for the firings of LGBTQ teachers who discuss gender or sexual orientation with their students, falsely equating it to child abuse.

But the case adds to a growing wave of lawsuits challenging tech companies to take more responsibility for their users’ safety — and arguing that past precedents should no longer apply.

The companies have traditionally argued in court that one law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, should shield them from legal liability related to the content their users post. But lawyers have increasingly argued that the protection should not inoculate the company from punishment for design choices that promoted harmful use.

In one case filed in 2019, the parents of two boys killed when their car smashed into a tree at 113 mph while recording a Snapchat video sued the company, saying its “negligent design” decision to allow users to imprint real-time speedometers on their videos had encouraged reckless driving.

A California judge dismissed the suit, citing Section 230, but a federal appeals court revived the case last year, saying it centered on the “predictable consequences of designing Snapchat in such a way that it allegedly encouraged dangerous behavior.” Snap has since removed the “Speed Filter.” The case is ongoing.

In a separate lawsuit, the mother of an 11-year-old Connecticut girl sued Snap and Instagram parent company Meta this year, alleging she had been routinely pressured by men on the apps to send sexually explicit photos of herself — some of which were later shared around her school. The girl killed herself last summer, the mother said, due in part to her depression and shame from the episode.

Congress has voiced some interest in passing more-robust regulation, with a bipartisan group of senators writing a letter to Snap and dozens of other tech companies in 2019 asking about what proactive steps they had taken to detect and stop online abuse.

But the few proposed tech bills have faced immense criticism, with no guarantee of becoming law. The most notable — the Earn It Act, which was introduced in 2020 and passed a Senate committee vote in February — would open tech companies to more lawsuits over child-sexual-abuse imagery, but technology and civil rights advocates have criticized it as potentially weakening online privacy for everyone.

Some tech experts note that predators can contact children on any communications medium and that there is no simple way to make every app completely safe. Snap’s defenders say applying some traditional safeguards — such as the nudity filters used to screen out pornography around the Web — to personal messages between consenting friends would raise its own privacy concerns.

But some still question why Snap and other tech companies have struggled to design new tools for detecting abuse.

Hany Farid, an image-forensics expert at University of California at Berkeley, who helped develop PhotoDNA, said safety and privacy have for years taken a “back seat to engagement and profits.”

The fact that PhotoDNA, now more than a decade old, remains the industry standard “tells you something about the investment in these technologies,” he said. “The companies are so lethargic in terms of enforcement and thinking about these risks … at the same time, they’re marketing their products to younger and younger kids.”

Farid, who has worked as a paid adviser to Snap on online safety, said that he believes the company could do more but that the problem of child exploitation is industry-wide.

“We don’t treat the harms from technology the same way we treat the harms of romaine lettuce,” he said. “One person dies, and we pull every single head of romaine lettuce out of every store,” yet the children’s exploitation problem is decades old. “Why do we not have spectacular technologies to protect kids online?”

‘I thought this would be a secret’

The girl said the man messaged her randomly one day on Instagram in 2018, just before her 13th birthday. He fawned over her, she said, at a time when she was feeling self-conscious. Then he asked for her Snapchat account.

“Every girl has insecurities,” said the girl, who lives in California. “With me, he fed on those insecurities to boost me up, which built a connection between us. Then he used that connection to pull strings.” The Post does not identify victims of sexual abuse without their permission.

He started asking for photos of her in her underwear, then pressured her to send videos of herself nude, then more explicit videos to match the ones he sent of himself. When she refused, he berated her until she complied, the lawsuit states. He always demanded more.

She blocked him several times, but he messaged her through Instagram or via fake Snapchat accounts until she started talking to him again, the lawyers wrote. Hundreds of photos and videos were exchanged over a three-year span.

She felt ashamed, but she was afraid to tell her parents, the girl told The Post. She also worried what he might do if she stopped. She thought reporting him through Snapchat would do nothing, or that it could lead to her name getting out, the photos following her for the rest of her life.

“I thought this would be a secret,” she said. “That I would just keep this to myself forever.” (Snap officials said users can anonymously report concerning messages or behaviors, and that its “trust and safety” teams respond to most reports within two hours.)

Last spring, she told The Post, she saw some boys at school laughing at nude photos of young girls and realized it could have been her. She built up her confidence over the next week. Then she sat with her mother in her bedroom and told her what had happened.

Her mother told The Post that she had tried to follow the girl’s public social media accounts and saw no red flags. She had known her daughter used Snapchat, like all of her friends, but the app is designed to give no indication of who someone is talking to or what they’ve sent. In the app, when she looked at her daughter’s profile, all she could see was her cartoon avatar.


The lawyers cite Snapchat’s privacy policy to show that the app collects troves of data about its users, including their location and who they communicate with — enough, they argue, that Snap should be able to prevent more users from being “exposed to unsafe and unprotected situations.”


Stout, the Snap executive, told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s consumer protection panel in October that the company was building tools to “give parents more oversight without sacrificing privacy,” including letting them see their children’s friends list and who they’re talking to. A company spokesman told The Post those features are slated for release this summer.


Thinking back to those years, the mother said she’s devastated. The Snapchat app, she believes, should have known everything, including that her daughter was a young girl. Why did it not flag that her account was sending and receiving so many explicit photos and videos? Why was no one alerted that an older man was constantly messaging her using overtly sexual phrases, telling her things like “lick it up?”


After the family called the police, the man was charged with sexual abuse of a child involving indecent exposure as well as the production, distribution and possession of child pornography.

At the time, the man had been a U.S. Marine Corps lance corporal stationed at a military base, according to court-martial records obtained by The Post.


As part of the Marine Corps’ criminal investigation, the man was found to have coerced other underage girls into sending sexually explicit videos that he then traded with other accounts on Chitter. The lawsuit cites a number of Apple App Store reviews from users saying the app was rife with “creeps” and “pedophiles” sharing sexual photos of children.


The man told investigators he used Snapchat because he knew the “chats will go away.” In October, he was dishonorably discharged and sentenced to seven years in prison, the court-martial records show.


The girl said she has suffered from guilt, anxiety and depression after years of quietly enduring the exploitation and has attempted suicide. The pain “is killing me faster than life is killing me,” she said in the suit.


Her mother said that the last year has been devastating, and that she worries about teens like her daughter — the funny girl with the messy room, who loves to dance, who wants to study psychology so she can understand how people think.


“The criminal gets punished, but the platform doesn’t. It doesn’t make sense,” the mother said. “They’re making billions of dollars on the backs of their victims, and the burden is all on us.”


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Tracked: How colleges use AI to monitor student protests // Dallas Morning News

Tracked: How colleges use AI to monitor student protests // Dallas Morning News | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

By Ari Sen & Derêka K. Bennett


The pitch was attractive and simple.


For a few thousand dollars a year, Social Sentinel offered schools across the country sophisticated technology to scan social media posts from students at risk of harming themselves or others. Used correctly, the tool could help save lives, the company said.

For some colleges that bought the service, it also served a different purpose — allowing campus police to surveil student protests.


During demonstrations over a Confederate statue at UNC-Chapel Hill, a Social Sentinel employee entered keywords into the company’s monitoring tool to find posts related to the protests. At Kennesaw State University in Georgia five years ago, authorities used the service to track protesters at a town hall with a U.S. senator, records show. And at North Carolina A&T, a campus official told a Social Sentinel employee to enter keywords to find posts related to a cheerleader’s allegation that the school mishandled her rape complaint.


An investigation by The Dallas Morning News and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism reveals for the first time that as more students have embraced social media as a digital town square to express opinions and organize demonstrations, many college police departments have been using taxpayer dollars to pay for Social Sentinel’s services to monitor what they say. At least 37 colleges, including four in North Texas, collectively educating hundreds of thousands of students, have used Social Sentinel since 2015.

The true number of colleges that used the tool could be far higher. In an email to a UT Dallas police lieutenant, the company’s co-founder, Gary Margolis, said it was used by “hundreds of colleges and universities in 36 states.” Margolis declined to comment on this story.


The News examined thousands of pages of emails, contracts and marketing material from colleges around the country, and spoke to school officials, campus police, activists and experts. The investigation shows that, despite publicly saying its service was not a surveillance tool, Social Sentinel representatives promoted the tool to universities for “mitigating” and “forestalling” protests. The documents also show the company has been moving in a new and potentially more invasive direction — allowing schools to monitor student emails on university accounts.


For colleges struggling to respond to high-profile school shootings and a worsening campus mental health crisis, Social Sentinel’s low-cost tool can seem like a good deal. In addition to the dozens of colleges that use the service, News investigation last year revealed that at least 52 school districts in Texas have adopted Social Sentinel as an additional security measure since 2015, including Uvalde CISD where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in May. The company’s current CEO J.P. Guilbault also said their services are used by one in four K-12 schools in the country.


Some experts said AI tools like Social Sentinel are untested, and even if they are adopted for a worthwhile purpose, they have the potential to be abused.


For public colleges, the use of the service sets up an additional conflict between protecting students' Constitutional rights of free speech and privacy and schools’ duty to keep them safe on campus, said Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor at American University’s Washington College of Law.


“What the technology allows you to do is identify individuals who are associated together or are associated with a place or location,” said Ferguson. “That is obviously somewhat chilling for First Amendment freedoms of people who believe in a right to protest and dissent.”


Navigate360, the private Ohio-based company that acquired Social Sentinel in 2020, called The News’ investigation “inaccurate, speculative or by opinion in many instances and significantly outdated.” The company also changed the name of the service from Social Sentinel to Navigate360 Detect earlier this year."...


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Instagram fined €405M for violating kids’ privacy // Politico

Instagram fined €405M for violating kids’ privacy // Politico | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |
The fine is the third for a Meta-owned company handed down by the Irish regulator. 

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Digital Game-Based Learning: Foundations, Applications, and Critical Issues // Earl Aguilera and Roberto de Roock, 2022 // Education 

Digital Game-Based Learning: Foundations, Applications, and Critical Issues // Earl Aguilera and Roberto de Roock, 2022 // Education  | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

By Earl Aguilera and Roberto de Roock


"As contemporary societies continue to integrate digital technologies into varying aspects of everyday life—including work, schooling, and play—the concept of digital game-based learning (DGBL) has become increasingly influential. The term DGBL is often used to characterize the relationship of computer-based games (including games played on dedicated gaming consoles and mobile devices) to various learning processes or outcomes. The concept of DGBL has its origins in interdisciplinary research across the computational and social sciences, as well as the humanities. As interest in computer games and learning within the field of education began to expand in the late 20th century, DGBL became somewhat of a contested term. Even foundational concepts such as the definition of games (as well as their relationship to simulations and similar artifacts), the affordances of digital modalities, and the question of what “counts” as learning continue to spark debate among positivist, interpretivist, and critical framings of DGBL. Other contested areas include the ways that DGBL should be assessed, the role of motivation in DGBL, and the specific frameworks that should inform the design of games for learning.

Scholarship representing a more positivist view of DGBL typically explores the potential of digital games as motivators and influencers of human behavior, leading to the development of concepts such as gamification and other uses of games for achieving specified outcomes, such as increasing academic measures of performance, or as a form of behavioral modification. Other researchers have taken a more interpretive view of DGBL, framing it as a way to understand learning, meaning-making, and play as social practices embedded within broader contexts, both local and historical. Still others approach DGBL through a more critical paradigm, interrogating issues of power, agency, and ideology within and across applications of DGBL. Within classrooms and formal settings, educators have adopted four broad approaches to applying DGBL: (a) integrating commercial games into classroom learning; (b) developing games expressly for the purpose of teaching educational content; (c) involving students in the creation of digital games as a vehicle for learning; and (d) integrating elements such as scoreboards, feedback loops, and reward systems derived from digital games into non-game contexts—also referred to as gamification.

Scholarship on DGBL focusing on informal settings has alternatively highlighted the socially situated, interpretive practices of gamers; the role of affinity spaces and participatory cultures; and the intersection of gaming practices with the lifeworlds of game players.As DGBL has continued to demonstrate influence on a variety of fields, it has also attracted criticism. Among these critiques are the question of the relative effectiveness of DGBL for achieving educational outcomes. Critiques of the quality and design of educational games have also been raised by educators, designers, and gamers alike. Interpretive scholars have tended to question the primacy of institutionally defined approaches to DGBL, highlighting instead the importance of understanding how people make meaning through and with games beyond formal schooling. Critical scholars have also identified issues in the ethics of DGBL in general and gamification in particular as a form of behavior modification and social control. These critiques often intersect and overlap with criticism of video games in general, including issues of commercialism, antisocial behaviors, misogyny, addiction, and the promotion of violence. Despite these criticisms, research and applications of DGBL continue to expand within and beyond the field of education, and evolving technologies, social practices, and cultural developments continue to open new avenues of exploration in the area."


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Student privacy laws remain the same, but children are now the product // Joel Schwarz and Emily Cherkin, The Hill 

Student privacy laws remain the same, but children are now the product // Joel Schwarz and Emily Cherkin, The Hill  | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

By Joel Schwarz and Emily Cherkin

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued a policy statement about the application of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to Ed Tech providers, warning that they can only use student personally identifiable information (PII) collected with school consent for the benefit of the school, and that they cannot retain it for longer than required to meet the purpose of collection.

Ironically, days later, a Human Rights Watch investigative report observed that almost 90 percent of Ed Tech products it reviewed “appeared to engage in data practices that put children’s rights at risk.”

These revelations are no surprise to children’s privacy advocacy groups like the Student Data Privacy Project. But in the midst of a COVID-fog, much like the fog of war, Ed Tech remained largely insulated from scrutiny, siphoning student PII with impunity.


Taking a step back, it’s important to understand how Ed Tech providers access and collect this information. In 1974, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was passed to protect school-held PII, such as that found in student directories. But FERPA contains a “School Official Exception” that allows schools to disclose children’s PII without parental consent so long as it’s disclosed for a “legitimate educational interest” and the school maintains “direct control” over the provider.  

In 1974, it was easy to maintain direct control over entities because there was no internet.

Today, schools increasingly rely on Ed Tech platforms to provide digital learning, pursuant to an electronically signed agreement, hosted by a nameless/faceless server, somewhere in the ether. Yet the law has barely changed since 1974. For example, the Department of Education (DOE) maintains that direct control can be established through use of a contract between the parties, despite the fact that online contracts and Terms of Service are often take-it-or-leave-it propositions that favor online services. In law, we called these “contracts of adhesion.” In Ed Tech advocacy, we call them data free-for-alls.


Given these concerns, in 2021 the Student Data Privacy Project (SDPP) helped parents from North Carolina to Alaska file access requests with their children’s schools under a FERPA provision mandating that schools provide parents access to their children’s PII. Most parents received nothing. Many schools seemed unable to get their Ed Tech providers to respond, and other schools didn’t know how to make the request of the provider.

One Minnesota parent received over 2,000 files, revealing a disturbing amount of personal information held by EdTech. How might this data be used to profile this child? And how does this comport with the FTC’s warning about retaining information only for as long as needed to fulfill the purpose of collection?

Despite this isolated example, most parents failed to receive a comprehensive response. As such, SDPP worked with parents to file complaints with the DOE in July 2021. As the one-year anniversary of these complaints draws near, however, the DOE has taken no substantive action. 


Ironically, in cases where the DOE sent copies of the parent’s complaint to the affected school district, the school’s response only bolstered concerns. One Alaska school district misapplied a Supreme Court case dealing with FERPA, asserting that “data gathered by technology vendors is not ‘educational records’ under FERPA” because the Ed Tech records are not “centrally stored” by the school. Ironically, that school attached its FERPA addendum to that same letter, which explicitly states that it “includes all data specifically protected by FERPA, including student education records, in any form.”

Unfortunately, this is indicative of widespread confusion by schools about applying FERPA to Ed Tech.

Yet parents have few options for holding Ed Tech providers accountable. Parents can’t sue Ed Tech because the schools have the direct contractual relationship. Parents can’t directly enforce FERPA because FERPA doesn’t offer a private right of action. Even state privacy laws are of little help when consent for sharing is given — and FERPA allows schools to consent on parents’ behalf.


There is some cause for hope. For example, President Biden’s March 1 State of the Union speech challenged Congress to strengthen children’s privacy protections “by banning online platforms from excessive data collection and targeted advertising for children.” And in January, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) sent DOE a letter inquiring about the SDPP parent complaints. Most recently, we have the FTC’s warning to Ed Tech about protecting student data privacy. Beyond that, however, we’ve seen little progress, or action, by the government.

So here are three things that need to happen to hold Ed Tech accountable:

  1. The FTC needs to enforce COPPA obligations on Ed Tech providers.

  2. The DOE must enforce FERPA, compelling schools to hold Ed Tech vendors accountable.

  3. Congress must update FERPA for the realities of the 21st century.

A 50th Anniversary is always a big occasion in a relationship, warranting a grand gesture to renew the commitment.


So what better gesture for the 50th anniversary of FERPA in 2024 than for the government to renew its commitment to protecting the privacy of nearly 50 million students by enforcing the law and closing the gaps that have allowed Ed Tech providers to exploit children’s PII for their own profit, without oversight or accountability?"


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Killer Apps for the Classroom? Developing Critical Perspectives on ClassDojo and the ‘Ed-tech’ Industry // Williamson, B. (2019). Journal of Professional Learning 

Killer Apps for the Classroom? Developing Critical Perspectives on ClassDojo and the ‘Ed-tech’ Industry // Williamson, B. (2019). Journal of Professional Learning  | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

By Ben Williamson

" The digital behaviour-monitoring app ClassDojo has become one of the most popular educational technologies in the world. Widely adopted by teachers of young children in Australia, Europe and North America since its initial launch in 2011, ClassDojo is now attracting critical attention from researchers and the media too. These critical perspectives are importantly illuminating how popular classroom technologies such as ClassDojo and the wider ‘ed-tech’ market are involved in reshaping the purposes and practices of education at an international scale. They are global, networked, demanding of teachers’ labour, and based on the extraction of digital information from schools—all raising significant questions for critical interrogation.

The purpose of engaging with ClassDojo critically is to challenge some of the taken-for-granted assumptions used to justify and promote the rollout and uptake of new edtech products and services in classrooms. Being critical does not necessarily imply militant judgement, but instead careful inquiry into the origins, purposes and implications of new technologies, their links to education policies, and the practices they shape in schools. What do these new technologies ultimately mean for education looking to the future?

Much contemporary education policy and practice tends to be fixated on research that solves problems and offers evidence of ‘what works’ (Biesta, Filippakou, Wainwright & Aldridge, 2019). One of the most important aims of educational research, however, is to identify problems:

Educational research that operates in a problem‐posing rather than a problem‐solving mode is … itself a form of education as it tries to change mindsets and common perceptions, tries to expose hidden assumptions, and tries to engage in ongoing conversations about what is valuable and worthwhile in education and society more generally. (Biesta et al, 2019, p.3)... 

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How Amazon Operates in Education // Williamson et al., 2022, Code Acts in Education  

How Amazon Operates in Education // Williamson et al., 2022, Code Acts in Education   | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

By Ben Williamson, Kalervo N. Gulson, Carlo Perrotta and Kevin Witzenberger


"The global ‘big tech’ company Amazon is increasing its reach and power across a range of industries and sectors, including education. In a new paper for the special symposium ‘Platform Studies in Education’ in Harvard Educational Review, we conceptualize Amazon as a ‘state-like corporation’ influencing education through a ‘connective architecture’ of cloud computing, infrastructure and platform technologies. Like its retail and delivery logistics business it is operating at international scope and scale, and, congruent with Amazon’s growing influence across industries and sectors, possesses the power to reshape a wide range of educational practices and processes.

Our starting point is that education increasingly involves major technology companies, such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon playing active roles as new kinds of networked governance actors. Infrastructures of test-based accountability and governance in education have long involved technical and statistical organizations. However, contemporary education governance is increasingly ‘data-driven’, using advanced technologies to collect and process huge quantities of digital information about student achievement and school and system performance.

In this context, new digitalized and datafied processes of education governance now involve multinational technology businesses offering infrastructure, platforms and data interoperability services. These connective architectures can affect the ways information is generated and used for institutional decision making, and also introduce new technical affordances into school practices, such as new platform-based learning, API-enabled integrations for increased interoperability, and advanced computing and data processing functionality from cloud infrastructures.

Our analysis focuses on Amazon, specifically its cloud computing subsidiary Amazon Web Services (AWS). Despite significant public, media, and regulatory attention to many of Amazon’s other activities and business practices, its activities in education remain only hazily documented or understood. AWS, we argue, enacts five distinctive operations in education.


The first part of our examination of AWS identifies how its corporate strategy underpins and infuses its objectives for education—a process we call inscribing to refer to the ways technology companies impress their business models on to the education sector. AWS is Amazon’s main profit engine, generating more than 60% of the corporation’s operating profits. Typifying the technoeconomic business model of big tech, it functions as a ‘landlord’ hosting industry, government, state and public sector operations on the cloud, while generating value from the ‘rent’ paid for on-demand access to cutting-edge cloud services, data processing, machine learning and artificial intelligence functionalities.

The ways this process of inscribing the business model on education takes place is evident in commercial marketing and discourse. AWS seeks to establish itself as an essential technical substrate of teaching, learning and administration, promoting its capacity to improve ‘virtual education’, ‘on-demand learning’ and ‘personalized learning’, and to support ‘digital transformation’ through ‘cloud-powered’ services like ‘campus automation’, ‘data analytics platforms’ and ‘artificial intelligence’. These promotional inscriptions paint a seductive picture of ‘pay-as-you-go’ educational improvement and seamless ‘plug-and-play’ transformation.

Beyond being discursive, these transformations require very specific kinds of contractual relations for cloud access, pay-as-you-go plans, and data agreements as per the AWS business model. AWS thus discursively inscribes and materially enacts its business model within education, impressing the techno-economic model of cloud tenancy, pay-as-you-go subscription rents, and computational outsourcing on to the education sector—potentially affecting some of the core functions of education in its pursuit of valuable rent and data extraction. Through this strategy, AWS is fast becoming a key cloud landlord for the education sector, governing the ways schools, colleges and edtech companies can access and use cloud services and digital data, while promoting a transformational vision of education in which its business interests might thrive.


The second architectural operation of AWS is its techniques for accustoming users to the functionality of the cloud. We term this habituating users to AWS, or synchronizing human skills to the cloud. It does so through AWS Educate, an educational skills program designed to develop teachers and students’ competencies in cloud computing and readiness for ‘cloud careers’. AWS Educate seeks to establish a positive educational discourse of ‘the cloud’, whereby educators and students are encouraged to develop their skills with AWS services and tools for future personal success, thereby connecting hundreds of thousands of students, educators and institutions and accustoming current and future users to the AWS architecture.

With stated aims to reach 29 millions learners worldwide by 2025, key features of AWS Educate include Cloud Career Pathways and Badges, with dedicated technical courses and credentials aligned to industry job roles like cloud computing engineer and data scientist.  These credentials are underpinned by the Cloud Competency Framework, a global standard used to create, assess, and measure AWS Educate cloud programs informed by the latest labour market data on in-demand jobs. This strategy also serves the goal of increasing user conversions and further AWS adoption and expansion, advancing the business aim of converting user engagement into habitual long-term users as a route to future revenue streams.

In short, through its habituating operations, AWS promotes a normative vision of education as electronic micro-bundles of competency training and credentials, twinned with the habituation of users to its infrastructure. While serving its own revenue maximization prospects, AWS Educate challenges public education values of cultivating informed citizenship with values prioritizing a privatized and platformized education dedicated to the instrumentalist development of a future digital workforce.


The third operation enacted by AWS in education is interfacing. AWS provides new kinds of technical interfaces between educational institutions, intermediary partners, and the AWS infrastructure. This is exemplified by Amazon’s Alexa, a conversational interface, or voice assistant, that sits between users and AWS, and which AWS has begun promoting for integration into other educational applications. Its interfacing operations are achieved by the Alexa Education Skills Kit, a set of standards allowing Alexa to be embedded in third party products and services. We argue it illustrates how application programming interfaces (APIs) act as a connective tissue between powerful global data infrastructures, the digital education platform industry, and educational institutions.

For example, universities can develop their own Alexa Skills in the shape of institutionally branded voice interfaces for students to access coursework, grades and performance data; educators can embed Alexa in classes as voice-enabled quizzes and automated ‘study partners’; and institutions are encouraged to include Alexa Skills in ‘smart campus’ plans.  In these ways, the Alexa Skills Kit provides a set of new AWS-enabled, automated interfaces between institutions, staff and students, mediating an increasing array of institutional relations via the AWS cloud and the automated capacities of Alexa.

The Alexa Education Skills Kit is one of many APIs AWS provides for the educational sector to access fast, scalable, reliable, and inexpensive data storage infrastructures and cloud computing capacities. The integration of automated voice assistants through the Education Skills Kit provides educational institutions a gateway into the core functionality of AWS. These interfaces depend upon the automated collection and analysis of voice data on campuses, its automated analysis in the AWS cloud, and the production of automated feedback, so generating a cascade of automation within institutions that have synchronized their operations with AWS. It normalizes ideals of automation in education, including the extensive data collection and student monitoring that such automation entails. Through its interfacing operations, we therefore argue, AWS and Alexa are advancing cascading logics of automation further into everyday educational routines.


Cloud computing establishes the social and technical arrangements that enable other technology companies to build and scale platforms. Amazon has developed an explicit market strategy in education by hosting—or platforming—the wider global industry of education technology on the AWS Cloud, specifically by providing the server hosting, data storage and analytics applications necessary for third parties to build and operate education platforms. Its AWS Imagine conference highlights its aspirations to host a huge range of edtech products and other services, and to guide how the industry imagines the future of education.

The role of AWS in platforming the edtech industry includes back-end server hosting and data storage as well as active involvement in startup development. Many of the globe’s largest and most highly capitalized edtech companies and education businesses are integrated into AWS. AWS support for the edtech industry encompasses data centre and network architecture to ensure that clients can scale their platform, along with data security and other AWS services including content delivery, database, AI, machine learning, and digital end user engagement services. This complete package enables edtech companies to deliver efficient computing, storage, scale, and reliability, and advanced features like data analytics and other AI services.

As such, through its platforming operations, AWS acts as an integral albeit largely invisible cloud presence in the back-end of a growing array of edtech companies. The business model of AWS, and the detailed contractual agreements that startups must sign to access AWS services, construct new kinds of dependencies and technical lock-ins, whereby the functionalities offered by third-party education platform companies can only exist according to the contractual rules and the cloud capacities and constraints of AWS. This puts AWS into a powerful position as a catalyst and accelerator of ‘digital transformation’ in education, ultimately responsible for re-tooling the industry for expanded scale, computational power, and data analytics functionality.


The final operation we detail is re-infrastructuring, referring to the migration of an educational institution’s digital infrastructure to AWS. It does so through AWS Migration services, and by providing institutions with a suite of data analytics, AI and machine learning functionalities. AWS promises that by ‘using the AWS Cloud, schools and districts can get a comprehensive picture of student performance by connecting products and services so they seamlessly share data across platforms’. AWS also promotes Machine Learning for Education to ‘identify at-risk students and target interventions’ and to ‘improve teacher efficiency and impact with personalized content and AI-enabled teaching assistants and tutors’. 

This seamless introduction of AI and automation is enabled by the formation of ‘data lakes’—a repository that hosts multiple types of data for machine learning analysis and visualization in the cloud. The process of ‘architecting a data lake‘ involves the deployment of multiple AWS products and functionalities, including those for pulling data seamlessly from student information and learning management systems, and for handling the ‘machine learning workload’ of analysis. AWS promotes full infrastructure migration to the cloud in terms of making everything from students and staff to estates and operational processes more intelligible from data, and thereby more amenable to targeted action or intervention.

Through cloud migration and data lake architecting, schools and universities are outsourcing a growing range of educational and administrative operations. This ultimately reflects a fresh hierarchical stratification of education, with AWS and its cloud firmly on top, followed by a sprawling ecology of edtech companies that mediate between AWS and the clients at the bottom: the schools and universities that form the data lakes from which AWS derives value. Yet, despite being highly consequential, these infrastructural rearrangements remain opaque, hidden in proprietorial ‘black boxes’, potentially resistant to autonomous institutional decisions, and extremely expensive and challenging to reverse.

‘Big tech’ and ‘state-like corporations’

One key implication we detail in the paper is the growing role of multinational ‘big tech’ companies in education, and the complex ways they are advancing longstanding reform efforts to privatize and commercialize public education, albeit through new techno-economic business models and practices. Social scientific and legal scholarship on private platforms and infrastructures has begun to contend with their growing social, technical and economic power, particularly their implications for key functions and processes traditionally considered the responsibility of state agencies or public sector organizations. As a corporate cloud company, Amazon is attempting to create market dominance and even monopoly power across a multitude of sectors and industries, raising sharp political and legal questions over the appropriate regulatory or antitrust measures to be taken.

Part of this competition is also for infrastructural dominance in education. The expansion of AWS signifies how the governance of the public sector and its institutions is becoming increasingly dependent on the standards and conditions set by multinational big tech corporations like Amazon and Google. Amazon is gathering significant power as what Marion Fourcade and Jeff Gordon term a ‘state-like corporation’. As a corporation with state-like powers, AWS can use its technical and economic capacity to influence diverse education systems and contexts, at international scale, and potentially to fulfil governance roles conventionally reserved for state departments and ministries of education.

As such, the continuing expansion of AWS into education, through the connective architecture we outline in the paper, might substitute existing models of governance and policy implementation with programmable rules and computer scripts for action that are enacted by software directly within schools and colleges rather than mandated from afar by policy prescriptions and proscriptions. As a state-like corporation with international reach and market ambitions, AWS is exceeding the jurisdictional authority of policy centres to potentially become the default digital architecture for governing education globally."

The full paper is available (paywalled) at Harvard Educational Review, or freely available in manuscript form.


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"Metaverse: Another cesspool of toxic content" [Report] // SumOfUs

To download report above, click on title, arrow, or link below. 

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May 23, 2022
"The report from SumOfUs highlights the staggering amount of harms found on Meta’s Horizon Worlds – as investors gather to vote on metaverse human rights assessment 


San Francisco - A researcher was sexually harassed and assaulted (virtually), and witnessed gun violence and homophobic slurs within hours of entering Meta’s new virtual reality platform, Horizon Worlds. 


Within about an hour of being on the platform, the researcher, posing as a 21 year old woman of color, was led to a private room at a house party where she was sexually assaulted, while a second user watched. View the clip here.


The findings of the investigation conducted by corporate accountability group, SumOfUs, comes days before investors are due to vote on a shareholder resolution, co-filed by SumOfUs with Arjuna Capital, that demands Meta undertake a human right impact assessment of its metaverse plans. 


The research is further evidence that Meta’s light touch approach to moderation is allowing toxic behavior to already take root on its VR platforms, including sexual harassment and predatory behaviour towards female- appearing and female-sounding avatars.


Rewan Al-Hadad, SumOfUs campaign director  said: “As it stands now, the metaverse is not safe, and based on Meta’s stance on how it will moderate the platform, it will continue to spiral into a dark abyss. Our researcher went from donning an oculus headset for the first time, to being virtually raped in less than an hour. And this isn’t a one-off account. Mark Zuckerberg claims he wants to connect the world – but what he’s doing is exposing people to seriously harmful encounters in a desperate attempt to save his company.” 


Multiple researchers and users have reported similar experiences of sexual violence, hate speech and graphic content on Meta’s VR platforms, as well as on non-Meta apps that are able to be accessed through an Oculus headset. This is despite Meta promises to improve  safety measures (1) and implement community guidelines. (2)


Last week Nick Clegg wrote that Metaverse moderation would be different to the active policing of problematic content on the Facebook platform but offered little detail about how this would work in practice.


In addition, SumOfUs and other groups as part of the Make Mark Listen campaign are calling for better governance of the company through shareholder resolution 4 demanding an assessment of the Audit and Risk Oversight Committee’s capacities and performance in overseeing company risks to public safety and the public interest.


Notes to editors:

1. Meta. Notice of Monitoring and Recording to Improve Safety in Horizon Worlds. 2022.

2. Meta. Conduct in VR Policy. 2022.


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‘Digital child labour’ – Pediatrician slams use of children on social media // NewsTalk 

‘Digital child labour’ – Pediatrician slams use of children on social media // NewsTalk  | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

"We need much stricter controls on the brands and influencers that share photos of children on social media, according to a pediatric consultant."

By Michael Staines
"In a recent column for The Irish Examiner, Dr Niamh Lynch said we need to re-think how we use images of children on social media – calling for an end to what she called ‘digital child labour.’

She said children’s rights to privacy and safety were being breached without their consent, and often for financial gain.

On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, she said the article was in response to the rise in ‘sharenting’ and ‘mumfluencers.’ 


“Without picking one example - and that wouldn’t actually be fair because I think a bit of responsibility has to be taken by the social media companies themselves and by the companies that use these parents - but certainly there would be tales of children being clearly unhappy or tired or not in the mood and yet it has become their job to promote a product or endorse a product or whatever,” she said.

“These children are doing work and because they’re young, they can’t actually consent to that. Their privacy can sometimes be violated and there is a whole ethical minefield around it.”

'Digital child labour'

She said Ireland needs tighter legislation to protect children’s rights and privacy – and to ensure there is total transparency about the money changing hands.

“People don’t realise that these children are working,” she said.

“These children are doing a job.

“It is a job that can at times compromise their safety. It is a job that compromises their privacy and it is certainly a job they are doing without any sort of consent.

“It is very different say with a child in an ad for a shopping centre or something like that. Where you see the face of the child, but you know nothing about them.

“These children, you know everything about them really in many cases.

“So yes, I would say there needs to be tighter legislation around it. It needs to be clear because very often it is presented within the sort of cushion of family life and the segue between what is family life and what is an ad isn’t always very clear.

“There needs to be more transparency really about transactions that go on in the background.”


She said there is a major issue around child safety when so much person l information is being shared.

“The primary concern would be the safety of the child because once a child becomes recognisable separate to the parent then there’s the potential for them to become a bit of a target,” she said.

“When you think about how much is shared about these children online, it is pretty easy to know who their siblings are, what their date of birth is, when they lost their last tooth, what their pet’s name is.

“There is a so much information out there about certain children and there are huge safety concerns around that then as well.”


Dr Lynch said we won’t know the impact of many children for at least another decade; however, children that featured in early YouTube videos are already coming out and talking about what an “uncomfortable experience” it was for them.

“I think the parents themselves to a degree perhaps are also being exploited by large companies who are using them to use their child to promote products,” she said.

“So, I think large companies certainly need to take responsibility and perhaps we should call those companies out when we see that online.”

“The social media companies really should tighten up as well.”


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Illuminate Education Breach Included Los Angeles Unified & Riverside County Districts, Pushing Total Impacted to Over 3M // THE Journal

Illuminate Education Breach Included Los Angeles Unified & Riverside County Districts, Pushing Total Impacted to Over 3M // THE Journal | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

California's Largest District & Riverside County Add Nearly 1 Million To the Number of Students Whose Private Data Was Stolen From Illuminate

By Kristal Kuykendall 

"The breach of student data that occurred during a January 2022 cyberattack targeting Illuminate Education’s systems is now known to have impacted the nation’s second-largest school district, Los Angeles Unified with 430,000 students, which has notified state officials along with 24 other districts in California and one in Washington state.

The data breach notifications posted on the California Attorney General’s website in the past week by LAUSD, Ceres Unified School District with 14,000 students, and Riverside County Office of Education representing 23 districts and 431,000 students, mean that Illuminate Education’s data breach leaked the private information of well over 3 million students — and potentially several times that total.

The vast reach of the data breach will likely never be fully known because most state laws do not require public disclosure of data breaches; Illuminate has said in a statement that the data of current and former students was compromised at the impacted schools but declined to specify the total number of students impacted in multiple email communications with THE Journal.


The estimated total of 3 million is based on New York State Department of Education official estimates that “at least 2 million” statewide were impacted, plus the current enrollment figures of the other districts that have since disclosed their student data was also breached by Illuminate.

California requires a notice of a data breach to be posted on the attorney general’s website, but the notices do not include any details such as what data was stolen, nor the number of students affected; the same is true in Washington, where Impact Public Schools in South Puget Sound notified the state attorney general this week that its students were among those impacted by the Illuminate incident.

Oklahoma City Public Schools on May 13 added its 34,000 students to the ever-growing list of those impacted by the Illuminate Education data breach; thus far, it is the only district in Oklahoma known to have been among the hundreds of K–12 schools and districts across the country whose private student data was compromised while stored within Illuminate’s systems. Oklahoma has no statewide public disclosure requirements, so it’s left up to local districts to decide whether and how to notify parents in the event of a breach of student data, Oklahoma Department of Education officials told THE Journal recently.

In Colorado, where nine districts have publicly disclosed that the Illuminate breach included the data of their combined 140,000 students, there is no legal mandate for school districts nor ed tech vendors to notify state education officials when student data is breached, Colorado Department of Education Director of Communications Jeremy Meyer told THE Journal. State law does not require student data to be encrypted, he said, and CDE has no authority to collect data on nor investigate data breaches. Colorado’s Student Data Transparency and Security Act, passed in 2016, goes no further than “strongly urging” local districts to stop using ed tech vendors who leak or otherwise compromise student data.

Most of the notifications shared by districts included in the breach have simply shared a template letter, or portions of it, signed by Illuminate Education. It states that Social Security numbers were not part of the private information that was stolen during the cyberattack.

Notification letters shared by impacted districts have stated that the compromised data included student names, academic and behavioral records, enrollment data, disability accommodation information, special education status, demographic data, and in some cases the students’ reduced-price or free lunch status.

Illuminate has told THE Journal that the breach was discovered after it began investigating suspicious access to its systems in early January. The incident resulted in a week-long outage of all Illuminate’s K–12 school solutions, including IO Classroom (previously named Skedula), PupilPath, EduClimber, IO Education, SchoolCity, and others, according to its service status site. The company’s website states that its software products serve over 5,000 schools nationally with a total enrollment of about 17 million U.S. students.

Hard-Hit New York Responds with Investigation of Illuminate

The New York State Education Department on May 5 told THE Journal that 567 schools in the state — including “at least” 1 million current and former students — were among those impacted by the Illuminate data breach, and NYSED data privacy officials opened an investigation on April 1.

The list of all New York schools impacted by the data breach was sent to THE Journal in response to a Freedom of Information request; NYSED officials said the list came from Illuminate. Each impacted district was working to confirm how many current and former students were among those whose data were compromised, and each is required by law to report those totals to NYSED, so the total number of students affected was expected to grow, the department said."


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The Surveillant University: Remote Proctoring, AI, and Human Rights // Tessa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy, University of Ottawa

The Surveillant University: Remote Proctoring, AI, and Human Rights // Tessa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy, University of Ottawa | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

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Algorithmic personalization is disrupting a healthy teaching environment // LSE

Algorithmic personalization is disrupting a healthy teaching environment // LSE | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |
 The UK government has given no sign of when it plans to regulate digital technology companies. In contrast, the US Federal Trade Commission will tomorrow consider whether to make changes on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act to address the risks emanating from the growing power of digital technology companies, many of which already play substantial roles in children’s lives and schooling. The free rein offered thus far has so far led many businesses to infiltrate education, slowly degrading the teaching profession and spying on children, argue LSE Visiting fellow Dr Velislava Hillman and junior high school teacher and Doctor of Education candidate Molly Esquivel. They take a look here at what they describe as the mess that digitalized classrooms have become, due to the lack of regulation and absence of support if businesses cause harm.


"Any teacher would attest to the years of specialized schooling, teaching practice, code of ethics and standards they face to obtain a license to teach; those in higher education also need a high-level degree, published scholarship, postgraduate certificates such as PGCE and more. In contrast, businesses offering education technologies enter the classroom with virtually no demonstration of any licensing or standards.

The teaching profession has now become an ironic joke of sorts. If teachers in their college years once dreamed of inspiring their future students, today these dreamers are facing a different reality: one in which they are required to curate and operate with all kinds of applications and platforms; collect edtech badges of competency (fig1); monitor data; navigate students through yet more edtech products.

Unlicensed and unregulated, without years in college and special teaching credentials, edtech products not only override teachers’ competencies and roles; they now dictate them.


Figure 1Teachers race to collect edtech badges

[See original article for image]

Wellbeing indexes and Karma Points

“Your efforts are being noticed” is how Thrively, an application that monitors students and claims to be used by over 120,000 educators across the US, greets its user. In the UK, Symanto, an AI-based software that analyses texts to infer about the psychological state of an individual, is used for a similar purpose. The Thrively software gathers metrics on attendance, library use, grades, online learning activities and makes inferences about students – how engaged they are or how they feel. Solutionpath, offering support for struggling students, is used in several universities in the UK. ClassDojo claims to be used by 85% of UK primary schools and a global community of over 50 million teachers and families. Classroom management software Impero, offers teachers remote control of children’s devices. The company claims to provide direct access to over 2 million devices in more than 90 countries. Among other things, the software has a ‘wellbeing keyword library index’ which seeks to identify students who may need emotional support. A form of policing: “with ‘who, what, when and why’ information staff members can build a full picture of the capture and intervene early if necessary”.

These products and others adopt the methodology of  algorithm-based monitoring and profiling of students’ mental health. Such products steer not only student behavior but that of teachers too. One reviewer says of Impero: “My teachers always watch our screens with this instead of teaching”. When working in Thrively, each interaction with a student earns “Karma Points”. The application lists teacher goals – immediately playing on an educator’s deep-seeded passion to be their best for their students (fig2). Failure to obtain such points becomes internalized as failure in the teaching profession. Thrively’s algorithms could also trigger an all-out battle of who on the teaching staff can earn the most Points. Similarly, ClassDojo offers a ‘mentor’ program to teachers and awards them ‘mentor badges’.

Figure 2Thrively nudges teachers to engage with it to earn badges and “Karma points”; its tutorial states: “It’s OK to brag when you are elevating humanity.” [See original article for image]


The teacher becomes a ‘line operator’ on a conveyor belt run by algorithms. The amassed data triggers algorithmic diagnostics from each application, carving up the curriculum, controlling students and teachers. Inferential software like Thrively throws teachers into rabbit holes by asking them not only to assess students’ personal interests, but their mental state, too. Its Wellbeing Index takes “pulse checks” to tell how students feel as though teachers are incapable of direct connection with their students. In the UK, the lax legislation with regards to biometric data collection, can further lead to advancing technologies’ exploitation of such data into developing mental health prediction and psychometric analytics. Such practices not only increase the risks of harm towards children and students in general; they dehumanize the whole educational process.

Many other technology-infused, surveillance-based applications are thrust into the classroom. Thrively captures data of 12-14-year-olds and suggests career pathways besides how they feel. They share the captured data with third parties such as YouTube Kids, game-based and coding apps – outside vendors that Thrively curates. Impero enables integration with platforms like Clever, used by over 20 million teachers and students, and Microsoft, thus expanding the tech giant’s own reach by millions of individuals. As technology intersects with education, teachers are merely a second thought in curriculum design and leading the classroom.

Teachers must remain central in children’s education, not businesses

The digitalization of education has swiftly moved towards an algorithmic hegemony which is degrading the teaching profession. Edtech companies are judging how students learn, how teachers work – and how they both feel. Public-private partnerships are giving experimental software with arbitrary algorithms warrantless titles of “school official” to untested beta programme, undermining teachers. Ironically, teachers still carry the responsibility for what happens in class.

Parents should ask what software is used to judge how their children feel or do in class and why. At universities, students should enquire what inferences are made about their work or their mental health that emerges from algorithms. Alas, this means heaping yet more responsibility on individuals – parents, children, students, teachers – to fend for themselves. Therefore, at least two things must also happen. First, edtech products and companies must be licensed to operate, the way banks, hospitals or teachers are. And second, educational institutions should consider transparency about how mental health or academic profiling in general is assessed. If and when software analytics play a part, educators (through enquiry) as well as policymakers (through law) should insist on transparency and be critical about the data points collected and the algorithms that process them.

This article represents the views of the author and not the position of the Media@LSE blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.


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College Students Say Crying In Exams Activates "Cheating" Eye Tracker Software // Futurism

College Students Say Crying In Exams Activates "Cheating" Eye Tracker Software // Futurism | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

By Lonnie Lee Hood

"Colleges and universities are increasingly using digital tools to prevent cheating during online exams, since so many students are taking class from home or their dorm rooms in the era of COVID-19.

The programs — prominent software options include Pearson VUE and Honorlock — analyze imagery from students' webcams to detect behavior that might be linked to cheating.

Needless to say, there are pain points.

University of Kentucky professor Josef Fruehwald, for instance, said in a popular video on TikTok that he wouldn't trust educators who use the software, prompting 2.3 million views and dozens of comments from stressed out students.


"One of my French exams got flagged for cheating because I was crying for the whole thing and my French prof had to watch 45 min of me quietly sobbing," one user replied.

"Since COVID, LSAT uses a proctoring system," another said. "I was yelled at for having a framed quote from my grandmother on the wall."

No less harrowing, one student said a proctor asked them to change into "something more conservative" during the exam, in the student's own home.

Fruehwald got so many responses he made a Twitter thread about it — whereupon tweeps started sharing even more allegations.


"My husband has two classes left for his BFA and one of them is a math class that requires an assessment test before enrolling," wrote one person. "He should have graduated two years ago but he couldn't take the friggin math class because THE SOUND OF HIS LAPTOP'S FAN SET OFF THE PROCTOR SOFTWARE."

Representatives of the anti-cheating software market did push back.

"Honorlock uses facial detection and ensures certain facial landmarks are present in the webcam during the assessment," said Honorlock's chief marketing officer Tess Mitchell, after this story was initially published. "Honorlock records the student’s webcam, so crying is visible, however, crying does not trigger a flag or proctor intervention."

Eye tracking software isn't exactly knocking it out of the park in the public opinion lately. One startup is forcing people to watch ads with their eyelids all the way open, and another is offering crypto in exchange for eyeball time.


The pandemic has changed a lot about the way society runs, and education seems to be a particularly challenged sector. As teachers quit jobs and students say they're silently sobbing into eye tracking programs on a computer screen, it's not hard to see why.

Updated with additional context and a statement from Honorlock.


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EdTech Tools Coming Under FTC Scrutiny Over Children’s Privacy // BloombergLaw

EdTech Tools Coming Under FTC Scrutiny Over Children’s Privacy // BloombergLaw | Educational Psychology & Technology: Critical Perspectives and Resources |

The Federal Trade Commission is planning to scrutinize educational technology in its enforcement of children’s online privacy rules.


By Andrea Vittorio
"The Federal Trade Commission is planning to scrutinize educational technology in its enforcement of children’s online privacy rules.


The commission is slated to vote at a May 19 meeting on a policy statement related to how the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act applies to edtech tools, according to an agenda issued Thursday.


The law, known as COPPA, gives parents control over what information online platforms can collect about their kids. Parents concerned about data that digital learning tools collect from children have called for stronger oversight of technology increasingly used in schools.

The FTC’s policy statement “makes clear that parents and schools must not be required to sign up for surveillance as a condition of access to tools needed to learn,” the meeting notice said.

It’s the first agency meeting since George University law professor Alvaro Bedoya was confirmed as a member of the five-seat commission, giving Chair Lina Khan a Democratic majority needed to pursue policy goals. Bedoya has said he wants to strengthen protections for children’s digital data.

Companies that violate COPPA can face fines from the FTC. Past enforcement actions under the law have been brought against companies including TikTok and Google’s YouTube.

Alphabet Inc.‘s Google has come under legal scrutiny for collecting data on users of its educational tools and relying on schools to give consent for data collection on parents’ behalf.

New Mexico’s attorney general recently settled a lawsuit against Google that alleged COPPA violations. Since the suit was filed in 2020, Google has launched new features to protect children’s data.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Vittorio in Washington at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at; Tonia Moore at 



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