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Protect your child’s PII

The proliferation of e-learning and educational technology is a welcome development for homebound families, but it also poses increased privacy risks for our kids – especially around data collection.

When’s the last time you read the privacy policy for an educational app you or your child’s school has chosen?  If your answer is “never” – you’re in good company. 

Reading privacy disclosures is practically guaranteed to be a confusing, tedious and, for many of us, pointless exercise. Why? Because we simply don’t understand what we’re reading – or what red flags we should be looking out for. 

Now, more than ever, we need to be more vigilant.

With more than 1.5 billion children around the world affected by COVID-19-related school closures, e-learning has well and truly gone viral. New apps are flooding the market as never before, while established players aggressively extend their reach.

But as more and more kids learn online, the potential for privacy risks is also expanding exponentially – especially the threat to what experts call PII – our children’s personally identifiable information.

PII defined

So what exactly is PII? Common forms include 

  • a student’s name

  • the names of parents or family members (including the maiden name of a student’s mother) 

  • a household address

  • a date or place of birth

  • student-identification numbers issued by schools or school systems

  • digital files such as photographs, videos, or audio recordings

With both students and schools increasingly using powerful devices that record and store personal data, PII may also include 

  • biometric data (e.g., fingerprints or palm prints)  

  • geolocation data (e.g., real-time location data relayed by a smartphone) 

  • metadata (i.e., “data about other data,” such as data about image size, resolution, color, or date of creation that are commonly embedded in digital photos).

How to read a privacy statement

Here are the key questions digital security experts advise parents to ask before allowing kids to use any educational app, even one that’s been recommended by your school. 

Think of them as a handy, how-to guide to reading any privacy statement.

    • If the app collects PII, does it promise never to sell your data?

    • Does it create a profile of your child for any reason besides educational purposes? 

    • Does it show ads?  If so, are they targeted based on data that tracks your child across the internet? 

      Look for this symbol – a sideways triangle with an “i” inside – an industry label indicating that a site allows behaviorally targeted advertising. 

  • Does the app provide security for the data it collects from children, such as encrypting?

  • Do privacy provisions go out the window if the company is sold? 

  • Does the app claim its privacy policy can change without notice at any time? 

  • When you cancel or delete the app, will your child’s data be automatically deleted? 

Just Google it!

Finally, experts advise, when in doubt about an app, just Google it. With most of the English-speaking world turning to online learning right now, another parent’s review or post can help steer you in the right direction. 

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