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Human Rights Watch raises edtech data privacy concerns

Following a global study of products used by schools during the pandemic, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned world leaders that some edtech platforms “endanger” or violate children’s data privacy.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for remote work, many schools have switched to online learning platforms. HRW, an international non-governmental human rights advocate, says too few governments have subjected the technology used in schools to security checks.

Between March and August 2021, HRW conducted a technical analysis of 164 edtech products approved by the governments of the 49 most populous countries in the world. England and Scotland were among those included in the study released May 25.

In assessments, HRW considered the prevalence and frequency of built-in tracking technology that can be used to create unique fingerprints.

It found that 89% of the products analyzed “appeared to engage in data practices that jeopardize children’s rights, contribute to undermining them or actively violate these rights.” These products had the ability to monitor children’s activities online “in most cases in secret” and without proper consent, HRW warned.

HRW calls on governments to implement children’s data protection laws and conduct privacy audits of edtech’s data in use in their jurisdictions.

Governments should urgently adopt and enforce modern child data protection laws to stop the surveillance of children by actors who do not have the best interests of children at heart
– Hye Jung Han, Human Rights Watch

Of those products examined, the research found that 146 sent or granted access to users’ personal data to 196 third-party companies, mostly in advertising. Some of these products are popular websites not designed explicitly for classrooms, such as some video conferencing software, but were still readily used by teachers during the pandemic.

Examples of information collected included who the children are and where they live, what they do in the classroom, their family and friends, and what devices they use. This information “could” be sold on the open market, she warns. You have found examples of edtech products targeting children with “behavioral advertising” campaigns based on their online usage habits.

The only solution to this problem, in some cases, is to throw “the device in the trash,” the report concludes.

“It is not possible for HRW to reach firm conclusions about the motivations of companies to engage in these actions, other than reporting what was observed in the data,” the report said, adding that several companies contacted “denied that their products were intended for use. by the children, or stressed that the pages of their virtual classrooms for the use of children had adequate privacy protections ”.

HRW said governments should force companies that fail Edtech’s privacy audits to erase all data collected during the pandemic. It also says education ministries should strengthen public procurement procedures, ban behavioral advertising to children, and require edtech companies to sign data collection privacy agreements. These practices should underpin national licensing processes that require data compliance by edtech companies.

Of the 164 edtech products reviewed by HRW, 39 were mobile applications, 91 websites, and 34 were available in both formats. To conduct its analysis, HRW downloaded the latest version of the product and its privacy policy between February 19 and March 15, 2021.

“Children should not be forced to give up their privacy and other rights to learn,” said Hye Jung Han, researcher and advocate for children’s rights and technology at HRW. “Governments should urgently adopt and enforce modern child data protection laws to stop the surveillance of children by actors who do not have the best interests of children at heart.”


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Human Rights Watch raises edtech data privacy concerns

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