The report published by the Digital Futures Commission (DFC), Problems with data governance in UK schools: the cases of Google Classroom and ClassDojo warns that educational technologies are putting children at risk of commercial exploitation.
The increased use of edtech in UK schools and the need for remote education due to the Covid pandemic has led to a sector worth £3-4bn to the UK, with government keen to develop economic growth further.
In 2021, Google classroom was downloaded almost 1.34 million times in the UK, and ClassDojo was downloaded 849,000 times, making them among the most used educational apps.
The report by the Digital Futures Commission, reveals that Google and ClassDojo are collecting children’s educational data and processing and profiting from that data for advertising and other commercial purposes – often in ways that are likely non-compliant with data protection.
We have found that it’s impossible for schools, parents, children – or even lawyers – to find out what data are collected from children and what happens to it – Sonia Livingstone OBE, report co-author
This data can be used to infer children’s preferences and predict actions in ways that inform advertising, the personalisation of products and services, or product development.
The report’s new findings come as the Danish government has banned schools from using chrome books and Google workspace for education. Germany bans the use of both Google and Microsoft products in schools and the Dutch authorities, having threatened a ban, successfully renegotiated their school contracts with Google to better protect child and data rights.
Sonia Livingstone OBE, report co-author, research lead at the Digital Futures Commission, and professor of social psychology at LSE said: “Children’s learning shouldn’t be the target of profit-driven exercises by powerful tech companies. Nor should parents and teachers be put in the position of forfeiting either children’s data or valuable online learning tools because government and edtech companies collectively fail to make edtech treat children fairly.
“We have found that it’s impossible for schools, parents, children – or even lawyers – to find out what data are collected from children and what happens to it.”
The report shows that the UK government and regulators do not match their European counterparts with fit-for- purpose risk mitigation measures. As a result, British children using digital tools in the classroom are vulnerable to their data being co-opted by global companies against their best interests – potentially resulting in data breaches, further monetisation, and long-term consequences for children’s prospects.
Baroness Beeban Kidron, founder of 5Rights Foundation and commissioner at the DFC continues: “What is happening in our schools is no less impactful on children than in any other environment. The processes and practice of digital technology used in schools is deliberately, seamlessly, and permanently extracting children’s data for commercial purposes – purposes that may not be aligned with the best interest of the child, the broader education community or indeed the expectations of society more broadly.
Edtech is neither good nor bad, and nothing in this report prevents the innovation and spread of technology that benefits children and their knowledge or wellbeing. Like most things digital, it is simply a question of uses and abuses. Baroness Beeban Kidron, commissioner at DFC
The report concludes that without immediate, joined-up action from Government, regulators and edtech companies, children’s data and privacy will be put at even greater risk. Clear recommendations are included.
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