Tag Archives: COPPA

A Privacy Blueprint for Biden

Privacy And Digital Rights For All

The weakening of The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Covid19 rush to usher in virtual learning and edtech in place of in-person learning, have created a perfect storm for student data collection and tracking. Students are increasingly subjected to edtech data collection, profiling, and surveillance as a condition of attending a public school. We call on the next administration to protect children and begin implementing these important recommendations within the first 100 days of office.

Leading privacy and civil rights advocates recently called on the next U.S. administration to make protecting digital privacy a top priority. The press release signed by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy, Color of Change, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG states:

“The Biden administration and the next Congress should make protecting digital privacy a top priority, and 10 leading privacy, civil rights and consumer organizations today released a memo of recommendations for executive actions on Day One, actions during the first 100 days and legislation.

“The United States is facing an unprecedented privacy and data justice crisis,” the blueprint memo reads. “We live in a world of constant data collection where companies track our every movement, monitor our most intimate and personal relationships, and create detailed, granular profiles on us. Those profiles are shared widely and used to predict and influence our future behaviors, including what we buy and how we vote. We urgently need a new approach to privacy and data protection. The time is now.”

“The U.S. urgently needs a comprehensive baseline federal privacy law. The Biden administration and Congress should not delay in setting out strong rights for internet users, meaningful obligations on businesses, and establishing a U.S. Data Protection Agency with strong enforcement powers,” said Caitriona Fitzgerald, policy director, Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“Privacy is a basic human right, and children’s personal information should not be profiled, licensed, sold, commercialized or shared with third parties as a condition of attending a public school. We hope policymakers will move to prohibit the use of student data for marketing purposes and require all public schools and education agencies to adopt strict security and privacy standards,” said Leonie Haimson, co-chair, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.

“For far too long, companies have deceptively tracked kids and used their sensitive data to exploit their vulnerabilities and target them with marketing. Families are counting on the Biden administration and the next Congress to recognize that children and teens are vulnerable, and to put protections in place which will allow young people to use the internet more safely,” said David Monahan, campaign manager, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

The recommendation memo, Privacy and Digital Rights for All, specifically calls for protection of children, teen, and student data, including parent consent before sharing student data:

Action item within the first year: Protect children and teens.

Action 8: Protect Children and Teens from Corporate Surveillance and Exploitative Marketing Practices Recommendations for First 100 Days
•Urge the FTC to begin 6(b) studies on ad tech and ed tech companies’ data practices and their impacts on children and teens before undertaking any rulemaking under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
•Protect students through an executive order that requires the Department of Education (DoE) to:
o Prohibit the selling or licensing of student data;
o Issue recommendations on transparency and governance of algorithms used in education;and
o Minimize data collection on students,ensure parental consent is affirmatively obtained before disclosing student data, and issue rules enabling parents to access and also govern data on their child.
Recommendations for Legislative Action
•Ensure children and teen privacy is legislatively protected as part of a comprehensive baseline federal privacy bill that:
o Establishes the special status of children and teens as vulnerable online users; provides strong limits on collection, use, and disclosure of data, and narrowly defines permissible uses;
o Requires employing privacy policies specific to children’s data on all sites and platforms used by children; and
o Prohibits targeted marketing to children and teens under the age of 18 and profiling them for commercial purposes.
•Strengthen COPPA by raising the covered age to 17 years and under, banning behavioral and targeted ads, banning the use of student data for advertising, and requiring manufacturers and operators of connected devices and software to prominently display a privacy dashboard detailing how information on children and teens is collected, transmitted, retained, used, and protected.
See more recommended principles for protection of children and teens here.

It’s time for the U.S. to take data privacy seriously.  Citizens should have consent and control over collection and use of their data; “pay-for-privacy provisions” and “take-it-or leave it” terms of service should be prohibited.  Finally,  our most vulnerable, our children should be protected, not exploited and surveilled as a condition of attending public school.

Top 10 back-to-school student privacy tips and resources for parents

It’s back-to-school time for K-12 students,  which will mean for many students remote online learning, or some type of hybrid, combining in-person with screen-based instruction.   We’ve gotten lots of questions from parents and educators concerned about the opportunity for expanded student data collection and disclosure in this new regime.

Here’s a checklist of resources and tips to help protect your students’ privacy:

  1. Opt-out of Directory Information.  Schools can share Directory Information about students with third parties without parental or student consent, unless you opt-out.   FERPA,  the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, requires schools to notify you of your right to opt-out of Directory Information, at the beginning of the school year. (FERPA is a privacy law that applies to any educational institution that receives federal funding, which includes all public schools and many private educational institutions as well.)  See our sample Directory opt-out form and resources  here and see World Privacy Forum’s video, flyer,  more information and opt-out form here Or use this school district’s Directory opt-out form as a template to also opt-out of online recorded or video conference learning.  Why does this matter?  What can be shared without your consent, via Directory Information? .According to the US Department of Education, Directory Information can include, but is not *limited to:
    • Student’s name
    • Address
    • Telephone listing
    • Electronic mail address
    • Photograph
    • Date and place of birth
    • Major field of study
    • Dates of attendance
    • Grade level
    • Participation in officially recognized activities and sports
    • Weight and height of members of athletic teams
    • Degrees, honors, and awards received
    • The most recent educational agency or institution attended
    • Student ID number, user ID, or other unique personal identifier used to communicate in electronic systems but only if the identifier cannot be used to gain access to education records except when used in conjunction with one or more factors that authenticate the user’s identity, such as a PIN, password, or other factor known or possessed only by the authorized user
    • A student ID number or other unique personal identifier that is displayed on a student ID badge, but only if the identifier cannot be used to gain access to education records except when used in conjunction with one or more factors that authenticate the user’s identity, such as a PIN, password, or other factor known or possessed only by the authorized user. 
    • *some schools include video as Directory Information
    • Unfortunately, FERPA has been rewritten to allow other exceptions to requiring parental consent, including allowing schools to disclose student information to contractors, researchers and others – which we describe in this fact sheet. But opting out of Directory Information is a good way to start and ensure that your child’s information isn’t shared with just anyone that the school or district might like, without any restrictions on re-disclosure or how the information might be used.                                                …………………………………………………….
  2.  Many schools are using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet for distance learning all day long and as The Washington Post reports, kids and parents are concerned about screen time and privacy issues.  If you are using Zoom (read our What you need to know about Zoom) or other video conferencing app for distance learning, be aware of your background (ie: that poster on the wall, your little sister in the room, etc) and consider asking your teacher if you can leave your camera OFF, (and covered with a band-aid)  to protect your child’s privacy.  At the very least, when using these video conferencing tools from home, use a virtual background.   (Per this very short video: it is your civil right to turn your camera off or use a virtual background for distance learning.)  Here is a Zoom tutorial on how to do virtual backgrounds.  Remember, students under the age of 16 cannot create a Zoom account.
    • Click here to see the US Department of Education Student Privacy Policy Office information and resources regarding FERPA and Virtual Learning
    • Does FERPA prevent a parent from observing their student’s classroom, whether on Zoom or in-person?  No. 
      USDoE Privacy Office says in the (above) FERPA and Virtual Learning Related Resources
      FERPA neither requires nor prohibits individuals from observing a classroom.  Our Letter to Mamas on classroom observation is also applicable to virtual classrooms.” 
      Mamas Letter: “FERPA does not specifically prohibit a parent or professional working with the parent from observing the parent’ s child in the classroom.
    • See this FBI warning about virtual learning via video conferencing and online classroom hacking
    • Read about the class action lawsuit filed against Zoom which alleges that Zoom unlawfully shared Zoom users’ personal information with third parties. …………………………………………………………….
  3. Ask your child’s school to limit screen time, maximize hands-on learning, and use paper and pencil assignments whenever possible.  Have your child work outside in sunlight if possible. Concerns about screen time are real, as this important 2020 study states, “Over exposure to digital environments, from abuse to addiction, now concerns even the youngest (ages 0 to 2) and triggers, as argued on the basis of clear examples herein, a chain of interdependent negative and potentially long-term metabolic changes.  And this equally important 2020 JAMA analysis shows that increased screen exposure, regardless of quality, (even educational screen time) can put kids at risk for delayed development.  For a detailed list of studies and harm associated with screen time such as depression, suicide, myopia, loss of sleep, changes in brain structure and developmental delays, click here.

    ……

  4. Ask teachers what apps they are assigning your kids to use; and if they have been screened by the state or district to protect privacy and to ensure they comply with student privacy laws. Ask teachers what data is being collected by these online apps and businesses; ask to see the contracts and terms of service.  Ask whether data are encrypted and held on the district servers.  Ask your school if they allow vendors to serve ads to students–some state laws prohibit targeted advertising, and federal law COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, prohibits companies from collecting certain data from children under the age of 13, without parent consent.*

  5. Ask to see the data in your child’s education record – as is your parental right under FERPA. If information in their record is wrong, you also have the right to correct it. ……………………………………………………………………….
  6. Make sure your child only enters the minimum amount of personal information necessary when creating an account or using any app (supervise them if possible if they have to create an account). Ask teachers if your child can log-in to an online tool anonymously by using anonymous credentials (ie: log-in as blue42;  and use email that does not include student name or ID). …………………………………………………………..
  7. Make sure your child isn’t signed into their school account when engaged in non-school activities online.  Clear their cookies regularly. (Cookies are a privacy risk; they collect your personal information, track you across sites, and can use and sell your information to advertisers and brokers.)  Use privacy friendly browsers like Firefox or Brave that block ads and trackers. …………………………………………………………..
  8. Location, location, location.  Turn off location tracking permissions for any app and device.  (Ask your child’s teacher to help with this.)
  9.  If your school uses Gsuite for Education (Google Classroom, gmail, Google Docs, etc.), check your student’s account settings and make sure YouTube Search/Watch History, location tracking from apps, etc are turned OFF or paused. Use a privacy friendly search engine like Duck-Duck-Go instead of Google.  (Google Search is not in the GSuite for Ed “Core Services” and as an Additional Service, if a student uses Google Search or YouTube, their data will be processed under Google’s general terms of service, where their data could be mined and used for marketing purposes.)
  10.  When signing up for College Board AP,  SAT,  PSAT or ACT remember that students do NOT have to take the questionnaire /surveys and should only fill in required information. If  students opt-out of the surveys and Student Search Services, it will NOT affect their chances of getting into a college. Opting out will only prevent ACT or College Board from selling access to your student’s score ranges and  personal and family data the student would provide on the survey.
    • The U.S. Department of Education issued significant guidance in 2018 that prohibits states or districts to allow testing companies like College Board or ACT to sell or re-disclose student assessment data, including test score ranges, without parent consent. Regarding these College Board and ACT surveys, PTAC guidance also says:

      “The survey’s multiple questions are designed to allow targeted recruitment, and students are specifically asked whether they would like to receive materials from different organizations, including colleges and scholarship organizations. For students who consent to being contacted by these organizations, the testing companies then sell this information….The administration of these tests and the associated pre-test surveys by SEAs and LEAs to students raises potential issues under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the confidentiality of  information provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), and several recently enacted State privacy laws, and generally raises concerns about privacy best practices.”

11. We know, we said top 10, but this last one is important.  Surveillance cameras in schools sometimes have video feeds that are shared with police, such as the Highland Park Independent School District in Texas where police and also the city have access to the school’s surveillance cameras. Parents were required to agree to this surveillance and waive their student’s privacy rights before they could register their child for school.

Some school surveillance cameras are powered with AI (Artificial Intelligence)– these cameras in Greeley, Colorado schools can read expressions on people’s faces and their mannerisms and be able to tell if they look violent.  Privacy experts warn about faulty facial recognition and predictive profiling.

Surveillance apps like Bark or Gaggle collect everything a student types and flag it for risk,  alerting teachers, administrators and sometimes warranting a visit from police.

As this Washington Post article details, some schools are using invasive online proctoring apps like Proctorio, ProctorU, and Examity, requiring students to agree to  let these apps monitor their webcams, their microphones, access their computers, and give the app companies “reams of sensitive student data such as their home addresses; details about their work, parental and citizenship status; medical records, including their weight, health conditions and physical or mental disabilities; and biometric data, including fingerprints, facial images, voice recordings and “iris or retina scans.”   As CNN reports, the AI and predictive algorithms  used in proctoring programs can be biased and inaccurate; wrongly flagging a student as suspicious can cause real life harm,  and these programs raise ethical and privacy concerns.  Parents and students are feeling pressured into giving up their rights as a condition of attending school. As this EdSurge article states, privacy leaders question whether school surveillance has gone too far:

“A growing chorus of education and privacy leaders are speaking out about the role of surveillance technology and whether it belongs in America’s schools or raises more issues than it solves. “

Parents have been told that students  cannot opt out of either the surveillance cameras or proctoring apps.   We challenge schools to do better.  We encourage parents to ask for copies of these data sharing agreements, contracts, MOUs.   Talk to your school boards, talk to your legislators and let them know that students should not have to pay the price of an education at the expense of their privacy.

Check out our Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy,  for more tips on how to protect your child’s personal data.  Read this open letter from our friends at Commercial-Free Childhood and Defend digital me,  signed by the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and over 30 advocacy groups worldwide,  asking policy makers, data protection authorities, and providers to protect kids’ rights, privacy, and well-being when they are engaged on edtech platforms.  Join us.  If you have questions about your student’s privacy, we’d love to hear from you.

 

Coalition tells the FTC: Time is up for TiKTok

 

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy is one of twenty advocacy, consumer, and privacy groups that filed a May 14, 2020 complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), asking them to investigate and sanction TikTok, formerly Musical.ly, for continuing to violate COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The complaint argues that TikTok continues to store and collect children’s personal information without notice to and consent of parents, in violation of its 2019 order by the FTC.

If you are not familiar with TikTok, it is a very popular social media app, with 800  million worldwide users, many of them children.  TikTok allows users to record and upload videos of themselves dancing and singing and the app has more downloads than Facebook.  As this Manchester Evening News piece points out,  the recommended ages are for 12 plus, but “online safety experts say it has been designed with the young user in mind and has a very addictive appeal.”

Why this complaint is important

Because TikTok  is a popular platform for children, parents  worry that TikTok is not safe and that it puts kids at risk of sexual predation. For example, this father warned other parents after his 7 year old daughter was asked to send nude pictures of herself on TikTok. In another instance, a 35 year old Los Angeles man was allegedly targeting girls by posing as a 13 year old boy on TikTok and engaging in  “sexual and vulgar conversations with at least 21 girls, some were as young as 9”.  This February 2020 piece in Parents  says,  “TikTok allows users to contact anyone in the world, and this comes with its own host of hazards”.  The Parents piece goes on to point out that “kids can be targeted by predators, it’s easy to encounter inappropriate content”, and “Even if you set your own account to private, you may still be exposed to sexual or violent content posted to the public feed.”

There are many more concerning  examples of underage TikTok use cited in the complaint. And as the complaint notes, it is easy for a child to fake their date of birth and sign up for an adult TikTok account.

Data is money. Children’s data is valuable, predictive and can profile the user.  As the complaint states,

“TikTok collects vast amounts of personal information including videos, usage history, the content of messages sent on the platform, and geolocation.  It shares this information with third parties and uses it for targeted advertising.”

Parents want to know how TikTok is using their children’s data.  TikTok, owned by Bytedance, uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and facial recognition.  Per this 2018 Verge article,

 “A Bytedance representative tells The Verge that TikTok makes use of the company’s AI technologies in various ways, from facial recognition for the filters through to the recommendation engine in the For You feed. “Artificial intelligence powers all of Bytedance’s content platforms,” the spokesperson says. “We build intelligent machines that are capable of understanding and analyzing text, images and videos using natural language processing and computer vision technology. This enables us to serve users with the content that they find most interesting, and empower creators to share moments that matter in everyday life to a global audience.”
TikTok also uses persistent identifiers to track kids and TikTok algorithms create profiles of children.  Per the complaint

 

“TikTok uses the device ID and app activity data to
run its video-selection algorithm. When a child scrolls away from the video they are watching, TikTok’s algorithm uses artificial intelligence to make sophisticated inferences from the data TikTok collects to present the next video. The algorithm “entirely interprets and decides what the user will watch instead of presenting a list of recommendations to the users like Netflix and YouTube.”

 

Using personal information in this manner exceeds the limited exceptions for personalization of content. The COPPA Rule is quite clear that information collected to support internal operations may, under no circumstances, be used “to amass a profile on a specific individual.”

 

Yet TikTok does, indeed, amass a profile of each user—including child users—and draws upon that profile to suggest videos of interest to the user. That profile may be based in part on users’ overt behavior, such as liking videos. However, TikTok also appears to amass user profiles based on passive tracking.  As reported in The New Yorker, “Although TikTok’s algorithm likely relies in part, as other systems do, on user history and video-engagement patterns, the app seems remarkably attuned to a person’s unarticulated interests.” Another article observed that the algorithm “goes right to the source using AI to map out interests and desires we may not even be able to articulate to ourselves.” The profiles that TikTok amasses on its users are designed to be used not only to curate which user-generated videos appear in each users’ stream, but also to assist with advertising. ” [Emphasis added]

 

It’s time the FTC uses its power to protect children and enforce COPPA.  The FTC should investigate TikTok,  ensure TikTok is in compliance with COPPA and its consent decree. If TikTok is found in violation, the FTC should take action and sanction TikTok again–with a fine that is proportionate to the degree of TikTok’s violations.

 

We are grateful to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), Institute for Public Representation Georgetown University Law Center  and many others for their work on this complaint.

 

Here is The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) full press release.  Additional coverage of the TikTok complaint can be seen as reported in the New York Times, Financial Times, Politico, Morning Tech, and Reuters