Report: K-12 Apps Share Student Data Nearly Unchecked

Report: K-12 Apps Share Student Data Nearly Unchecked

Advertisements are still making their way onto technology platforms used in U.S. schools far too often, proving a vehicle for sharing student data on social media sites, according to a recent report on K-12 product safety. The vast majority of K-12 districts, meanwhile, are not vetting all technology used by students or communicating with parents about potential privacy concerns.

The nonprofit Internet Safety Labs (ISL) released Part 2 of its K-12 EdTech Safety Benchmark: National Findings report on June 27. The nonprofit agency conducts independent product safety testing in K-12 schools and reports its findings and evaluations every three to five years. Part one of the report, released in January, noted that the vast majority of apps used in schools — 96 percent — share student information with third parties. Part III, which will be released at a later date, will specify what type of personal identifiable information (PII) from students and parents is being shared, said ISL Executive Director Lisa LeVasseur.

For the entire report, ISL in 2022 evaluated K-12 technology in the 50 states and the District of Columbia using samples from 455,882 students in 663 schools, and 1,357 different technologies/apps. In doing so, it collected more than 88,000 data points on the apps and 29,000 on schools and their technology habits, according to the report. The resulting report assigns composite scores to surveyed districts as well as to states, noting level of security concerns. The higher the score, the riskier the overall technology used. Texas had the highest score, at 89.18, while Hawaii had the lowest at 30.43.

Other key findings:

  • Despite their intentions to ban retargeting ads that can follow students between multiple applications, Internet privacy laws in 24 states have not been effective in stopping ads on technologies used in schools.
  • Regardless of “safe harbor” certifications or other privacy protection promises on ed-tech products, student data from those tools still made their way to large platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Eighty-six percent of the districts surveyed did not have a function for obtaining parental consent for technology that shares student data with third parties.
  • More than 70 percent of schools do not vet all technology used by students, and those who did have some sort of vetting process (29 percent) were using a higher number of unsafe apps than schools that did not have a vetting process.

LeVasseur cautioned that the report isn’t intended to fault school personnel, students or parents for inadequate safeguards. She said technology consumers as a collective — whether individuals who choose free versions of streaming content services loaded with ads, or software companies that have assumed for years that there were no consequences of sharing resources — inadvertently played a role in this.


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