Reviews | Children couldn’t even learn during the pandemic without supervision

The coronavirus has thrown 1.6 billion children and young adults around the world out of the classroom and into the realm of digital learning – which, for the advertising industry, meant 1.6 billion new sources of sensitive data.

A new report from Human Rights Watch reveals how educational tools used by students during the pandemic collected and shared their information. Analysis of 164 apps and websites recommended by local school districts and governments elsewhere revealed that nearly 90% of the products sucked up students’ activities, places, and sometimes even keystrokes, conveying this treasure trove of knowledge to companies that exploit it for profit. Many of these privacy breaches were invisible; many were also unavoidable for any child who wanted, amid the outbreak of a deadly disease, to continue learning. The 146 products that sold or granted data access did so to 196 third-party companies; to whom or how much these third-party companies then passed the data on is unknown.

These results show how the globe has settled into a default position of constant surveillance. The damage caused by this status quo varies: the most serious, the detailed picture that this data allows brokers to develop could, for example, help an attacker or trafficker track down a victim; more banal is the inconvenience of being followed by the image of a pair of shoes that an advertising algorithm has decided to entice you to buy. The lack of restrictions in the United States and many other places on the collection, processing and sale of personal information means that companies rarely have to distinguish between these uses or protect customers from the worst of them. they. And even when it comes to the most benign results, it is worth asking the question: is it necessary, and is it right, to collect this data on children when they and their parents do not expect it and do not have the ability to prevent it?

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act already has special restrictions on data collected from young children, which the companies involved in last week’s report say they have not breached. The Federal Trade Commission passed a policy statement this month to enforce the law more vigorously, and there’s a movement on Capitol Hill to strengthen it. These efforts are obviously justified, but the fact that even children trying to learn in the midst of a pandemic are being watched so that someone, somewhere can earn money points to a societal problem. The solution is a comprehensive federal privacy law that applies to everyone. The senses. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), whose Commerce Committee has long worked on a bipartisan bill, would have to overcome their remaining differences to finish the job.

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