Science & Tech

The Student Data-Mining Scandal Under Our Noses

Google CEO Larry Page speaks during a press announcement at Google’s headquarters in New York. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)
With little public oversight, Google has infiltrated schools.

While congresscritters expressed outrage at Facebook’s intrusive data grabs during Capitol Hill hearings with Mark Zuckerberg this week, not a peep was heard about the Silicon Valley–Beltway theft ring purloining the personal information and browsing habits of millions of American schoolchildren.

It doesn’t take undercover investigative journalists to unmask the massive privacy invasion enabled by educational technology and federal mandates. The kiddie data heist is happening out in the open — with Washington politicians and bureaucrats as brazen co-conspirators.

Facebook is just one of the tech giants partnering with the U.S. Department of Education and schools nationwide in pursuit of student data for meddling and profit. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Pearson, Knewton, and many more are cashing in on the Big Data boondoggle. State and federal educational databases provide countless opportunities for private companies exploiting public schoolchildren subjected to annual assessments, which exploded after adoption of the tech-industry-supported Common Core “standards,” tests, and aligned texts and curricula.

The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act further enshrined government collection of personally identifiable information — including data collected on attitudes, values, beliefs, and dispositions — and allows release of the data to third-party contractors thanks to Obama-era loopholes carved into the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

And the so-called school-to-work pipeline creates endless avenues into taxpayer coffers for firms pitching data-gathering initiatives to “align” student learning with “skill sets” and “competencies” desired by corporations.

Facebook, for example, joined with the Department of Education’s federally sponsored Digital Promise initiative last fall to develop a system of “micro-credentialing” badges for adult students in digital marketing. You can be sure it’s not merely out of benevolence and public interest that Zuckerberg’s empire is training thousands of these students to learn “Social Media Marketing Basics,” “Marketing with Facebook Pages,” “Marketing with Facebook Ads,” and “Marketing with Instagram.”

As parent and educational privacy advocate Cheri Kiesecker reported, the Facebook/Digital Promise partnership is “a wonderful data collection and marketing tool for Facebook and the US Department of Ed, but it is incredibly alarming for students’ privacy and security.”

Facebook is on the march from luring adult students into its orbit to encroaching on secondary and elementary-school-age users through its Messenger Kids app and “whole-child personalized learning” programs funded by Mark Zuckerberg through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The education division of CZI, a “philanthropic investment company” funded with up to $1 billion in Facebook shares sold by Zuckerberg over the next three years, is headed by Jim Shelton. He’s a former program officer at the Gates Foundation and a key Common Core champion in the Obama administration.

“Personalized learning” is an edutech buzz phrase for hijacking the classroom and hooking students and teachers on branded software and hardware — iPads, smartboards, computerized portfolios, homework apps, you name it — without any evidence that such shiny objects improve academic performance.

Under the guise of customizable assessments, public and private preschools in Colorado experimented with toddlers whose student activities and social/emotional behaviors were tracked using the TS Gold (Teaching Strategies Gold) system — funded with $30 million in Race to the Top subsidies under the Obama administration. As I reported in 2014, parent Lauren Coker discovered that TS Gold assessors in her son’s Aurora, Colo., public preschool had recorded information about his trips to the bathroom, his hand-washing habits, and his ability to pull up his pants.

Sunny Flynn, a mom with kids in Jefferson County, Colo., asked all the right questions: “What security measures are being used to protect this data? Who exactly has access to this data? How long will the data be stored? What is the proven benefit of a kindergarten teacher putting all of this data into a database?”

Over the past four years, Google has admitted ‘scanning and indexing’ student email messages and data mining student users for commercial gain.

With little public oversight, Google has infiltrated schools through its “free” Google Apps for Education suite. As I’ve reported previously, Google is building brand loyalty through its questionable certification program that essentially turns teachers into tax-subsidized lobbyists for the company. GAFE enrollees are “trained” on Google products, earn certification, and then open up consultancy businesses and bill their school districts (i.e., the public) to hawk Google’s suite of products to other colleagues.

And this week, 23 parent and watchdog groups filed a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission alleging that Google is violating child-protection laws by collecting personal data of and advertising to those aged under 13.

Over the past four years, Google has admitted “scanning and indexing” student email messages sent using GAFE and data mining student users for commercial gain when they use their accounts for noneducational purposes. Google can collect student/family data to target ads through related services outside the GAFE suite, such as YouTube for Schools, Blogger, and Google Plus. These are not covered under the already watered-down federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Under the Obama years, Grand Canyon–sized loopholes in federal student and family privacy protections opened data mining to third-party private entities. Those have yet to be closed by the Trump administration. Why not? It’s time to drain the student data-mining swamp and their facilitators in Washington. For the children.

© 2018 Creators.com

Editor’s Note: This column has been amended to highlight that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Facebook are separate organizations.

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More
World

Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More
U.S.

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More
Elections

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
PC Culture

Merciless Sympathy

Jussie Smollett’s phony hate-crime story could have been taken apart in 24 hours, except for one thing: Nobody wanted to be the first to call bullsh**. Who will bell the cat? Not the police, and I don’t blame them. Smollett is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump who checks two protected-category ... Read More