New Privacy Analysis of EdTech Industry by Common Sense Finds Serious Risks for Kids Using Educational Software

As Big Tech and Social Media Companies Remain the Focus of Public Scrutiny Over Privacy, EdTech Vendors Show Similar Deficiencies in Protecting Students
Common Sense Media
Thursday, May 24, 2018

Only 10% of the Applications and Services Evaluated Met Minimum Criteria for Transparency and Quality in Their Policies, Putting Students' Privacy at Risk

SAN FRANCISCO—Common Sense released a white paper today finding that only 10% of the more than 100 edtech applications and services that were evaluated in the organization's analysis met minimum criteria for transparency and quality in their policies. The three-year examination of the most-used applications and services in education technology finds a widespread lack of transparency, as well as inconsistent privacy and security practices. This is a major concern given that tens of millions of children use these learning technologies on a daily basis. The 2018 State of EdTech Privacy Report includes an analysis of how student information is collected, used, and disclosed, including third-party marketing, advertising, tracking, and profiling.
 
“Educational technology platforms serve the most vulnerable population when it comes to protecting privacy -- our kids,” said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. “It's vital that educators, parents, and policymakers engage in the same conversations with the edtech industry that we're having now with Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other social media platforms about building solutions that strengthen our children's security and privacy protections.”
 
Nearly all of the educational technology applications and services evaluated by Common Sense either do not clearly define safeguards taken to protect child/student information, do not support encryption, or lack a detailed privacy policy. Key findings include:

  • 38% of educational technologies evaluated indicated they may use children's personal and non-personal information for third-party marketing.
  • 40% indicate they display contextual advertising based on the page content, and 29% indicate they show behavioral ads based on the child's usage of the service.
  • Among web-based services, 37% indicate that collected information can be used by tracking technologies and third-party advertisers, 21% indicate the collected data may be used to track visitors after they leave the site, and 30% ignore “do not track” requests or other mechanisms to opt out.
  • 10% say they create profiles of their users.
  • 74% indicate they maintain the right to transfer any personal information they collect if the company is acquired, merged, or files for bankruptcy.
  • Only 11% indicate they moderate social interactions between users. Additionally, only 14% say they review user-generated content to remove materials such as gambling, alcohol, violent, or sexual content.
  • 50% allow children's information to be publicly visible.

“The lack of transparency we found in the edtech industry is especially troubling, as there's a direct correlation between greater transparency in companies' policies and the overall quality of privacy protections for kids,” said Girard Kelly, Common Sense's counsel & director, privacy review. “When companies are transparent about their collection, use, and disclosure of personal information, their practices tend to be stronger and better for kids and families. We found only a handful of companies to be transparent, and this is where change has to start.”

Common Sense will continue to evaluate education software and intends to publish a follow-up report in 2019 covering an even larger group of edtech applications and services in order to continue advocating that the entire ecosystem improve the practices and transparency of its policies to help keep children's information in educational settings safe and used appropriately.
 
For more information on the project, visit: https://www.commonsense.org/education/privacy 
 
About Common Sense
Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Learn more at commonsense.org.

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