Laptops are still monitoring students now that they are back in school, High school teachers can see this when they open up the popular GoGuardian monitoring application: The gallery view of a large Zoom call is a good analogy for the new UI. The teacher, on the other hand, sees thumbnail pictures of the screens of each student’s laptop in each frame. Teachers can watch as their pupils meticulously type the word “chlorofluorocarbon” into a search bar or scan over a sonnet’s lines with their cursors.
Using GoGuardian’s private messaging feature, the teacher can send a message to the student reminding them to keep on task if they become distracted by something like an online game or a stunt video. If a pupil has repeatedly strayed from the task at hand, the teacher has the option of remotely zapping the gadget.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, student-monitoring software has been reevaluated. In the United States, many students forced to complete their education online took school-issued devices home. Instructors may monitor and regulate their pupils’ devices, use AI to analyze emails and cloud-based documents, and, in extreme circumstances, send notifications to teachers and local law enforcement outside school hours about potential violent threats or mental health harms.
The surveillance software that spread like wildfire during the pandemic will remain on the school-issued gadgets of most returning pupils in the United States. A new report from the Center for Democracy and Technology shows that 89 percent of teachers say their schools would continue to use student-monitoring software, an increase of 5 percentage points from last year.
In areas where abortion is banned, the overturning of Roe v. Wade has led to new worries about digital surveillance. School-issued devices could target LGBTQ students, such as the Texas governor’s order to examine the homes of children who have sought gender-affirming care.
In addition, the CDT paper shows how monitoring software may reduce the distance between classrooms and prisons. Police have made contact with at least one student at their school as a result of behavior highlighted by the monitoring software, according to 44% of instructors.
Thirty-seven percent of teachers who claim their school utilizes activity monitoring outside of regular hours state that these alerts are sent to “a third party focused on public safety” (e.g., local police department, immigration enforcement). Elizabeth Laird, the CDT’s director of equity in civic technology, adds that schools have “institutionalized and routinized” law enforcement’s access to student information.
There have lately been concerns voiced by US senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey that software may be used to prosecute kids who seek reproductive health services on school-issued computers by facilitating interaction with law authorities. GoGuardian, Gaggle, Securely, and Bark for Schools are among the four major monitoring businesses that have been asked to respond to the senators’ questions.
Back-to-school anxiety is heightened by widespread worries about the mental health of adolescents and the prevalence of violence in educational settings. After the shootings in Uvalde, Texas, Congress passed a bill allocating $300 million to improve school security due to the tragedy.
Educators’ worries are exploited by monitoring businesses, which promote their systems as being able to identify potential assailants among their students. “AI-powered insight on student behavior for email, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive files” can be found on Securly’s website. It encourages them to “identify students who may be in danger of harming themselves or others” by “approaching student safety from every perspective, across every platform.”
Then I’ll see you after school.
Legislators and privacy campaigners were already concerned about student-monitoring software before the Roe decision raised attention to the dangers of digital surveillance. In March 2022, a Senate investigation led by Warren and Markey determined that the four corporations listed above, which provide K-12 schools with digital student monitoring services, had “serious privacy and equality concerns.”
Researchers found that low-income students (who are more likely to be African-American or Hispanic) use school devices and are monitored at a higher rate than wealthy students. They also found that schools and businesses were not required to inform students and parents about their monitoring. There are situations in which a district can choose to have a private entity relay notifications directly to law enforcement.
These AI hall monitors can be exploited, and students typically know this. A study by The 74 Million discovered that Gaggle would send kids warning emails for innocent content, like vulgarity in a fiction submission to the school literary magazine. It has been revealed that the district employed tracking software to expose students’ sexuality to their parents. It was announced in today’s CDT study that a whopping 13% of pupils knew someone who had been outed by student surveillance software.) There were concerns that kids would be reluctant to seek help for mental health issues because of their school’s usage of the program.
Students’ after-school activities have been allegedly bugged by surveillance software, which is also concerning. A Gaggle “Questionable Content” email alert would be sent to one of the associate principals I spoke to for this report regarding kids’ text messages, including pornographic images and profanities. But the children weren’t messaging on their Chromebooks, which the school provided.
When school officials looked into it, they found that teens were using USB cables to charge their phones at home. When the youngsters were done texting and exchanging naked images with their significant others, the Gaggle program on the Chromebook was able to pick it up. Students are no longer permitted to use school-issued laptops with any external devices due to a new policy implemented by the school.
Even before the criminalization of reproductive health care, privacy advocates were alarmed by this extensive monitoring, but now they are even more so. In a place where abortion is banned, it’s not hard to imagine a student who lives there using a search engine to find abortion facilities outside the state or conversing online with a buddy about an unintended pregnancy. Teachers and administrators could then alert the student’s parents or local law police of the incident.
This means that students who search for phrases like “abortion clinic near me” or “gender-affirming care” could trigger a warning from the monitoring system. “Abortion, reproductive health care, and gender-affirming health care” are not included in Gaggle’s keyword lexicon, according to vice president of marketing Paget Hetherington.
Gaggle allows districts to tweak and localize the keywords identified by the algorithm to a certain level. To the question of whether school districts can ask Gaggle to track words and phrases related to reproductive or gender-affirming health care, Hetherington said: “It’s possible that a school district in one of these states could potentially ask us to track some of these words and phrases, and we will say no.”.
A GoGuardian spokesperson responded when asked for comment: “As a company committed to building safer learning environments for all students, GoGuardian continuously assesses our product architecture for student data protection. ” Sens. Warren and Markey sent us a letter, which we are now analyzing and will respond to.
After initially agreeing to speak with us, Bark for Schools became silent. WIRED also issued follow-up inquiries but received no response.
Requests for comment from Securely went unanswered.
This includes all of the displays.
There are ways to get kids in trouble with the law, even if student monitoring algorithms aren’t actively scanning for anything connected to abortion or gender-affirming care. K12 Security Information Exchange’s national director Doug Levin thinks it’s “hardly a stretch” to believe school districts will be required to use the information they collect to ensure state law enforcement.
Students’ personal information can and is shared with law enforcement. More than 100 times, The Boston Globe found in 2020, the city’s police department’s “Intelligence Unit” exchanged information about Boston Public School kids, putting the students at increased risk of deportation.
Levin argues that present federal safeguards for protecting students’ digital searches and conversations are insufficient. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is the key federal statute controlling the type and amount of student data firms can hoover up.
According to Levin, FERPA has only been amended a handful of times since it was passed in 1974, and the technology that determines the reality for schools and children in 2022 hasn’t kept pace with FERPA. Most children cannot benefit from the current national privacy measure in Congress because it excludes public institutions such as public schools and private companies that manage student data.
The advantages of remote monitoring for educators are numerous. Stacy Recker, a Cincinnati-area high school social studies teacher, thinks GoGuardian was “invaluable” during the outbreak. She used the program to assist students who were having difficulties with the technical requirements of online learning.
Now that her students are back in school, she uses GoGuardian to keep them off YouTube so they can concentrate on a lesson on W.E.B. DuBois. During the interview with WIRED, she was unaware of the alerting system that GoGuardian sells as a separate product and promises to detect a student’s risk of self-harm or injury to others.
In the wake of campus tragedies, educators have the unenviable task of simultaneously helping students recover from two years of intense disruption and providing mental health support. Teachers had written testimonials on the websites of the monitoring firms about how their devices helped them intervene in the nick of time when they noticed signs of suicidal thinking in their students.
After recent school shootings, instructors should be on high alert for potential threats. However, there is little evidence to support the use of monitoring software to prevent violence. Privacy groups say that schools should not be forced to choose between safety and surveillance. Evan Greer, director of the non-profit Fight for the Future, warns that “surveillance always comes with inherent forms of abuse.” That’s not the only method to care for and protect children,” he says.
Educators may have a similar opinion. A Pennsylvania associate principal at the time of the Columbine school shootings, Lee Ann Wentzel, was shaken by the tragedy. She recalls the haste with which her school implemented additional safety measures, such as the distribution of identification badges. When Wentzel took over as superintendent in 2010, she worked with her team to create a tight criterion for student privacy that the district could use to evaluate any software they used with pupils.
Questions like whether or not student data was destroyed and shared with third parties were part of the scoring criteria. Her school system does not use GoGuardian, Gaggle, Securely, or Bark for Schools.
When it comes to student-monitoring businesses, she’s suspicious of what they promise. The author writes that a false sense of security and the stifling of inquiry are two of the effects of these systems. You are not forming relationships with children in front of you when you depend on technology systems to inform you a kid is unhappy, which worries me.
“There’s no single answer to these challenges,” she says of the corporations’ claims to have increased school safety and anticipated violence. Anyone who claims, “We’re going to be able to forecast that sort of thing”—No. No. “No, you’re not.”