In-person teaching has resumed in the US – but electronic snooping hasn’t stopped | Arwa Mahdawi


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Surveillance software sends students on an outing

Getting your child ready to go back to school in the US? Well, then you’ll need all the essentials: a bulletproof backpack and a school-issued tablet or laptop, pre-programmed with creepy spyware. During the pandemic, remote education sparked a boom in surveillance software that allowed teachers to monitor everything kids did on school-issued devices. However, now that personal education has resumed, electronic supervision has not stopped. On the contrary, it has increased. According to a new report from the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), 89% of teachers have said their schools will continue to use student tracking software, up 5% from last year.

School monitoring software is marketed as a way to protect and protect children. There are several tools out there, but they all make roughly the same promises about using AI-powered insights to prevent things like self-harm, bullying, and school violence. While that all sounds very noble, digital rights experts are concerned that the software, which often runs outside of school hours, works to punish students rather than protect them. According to the CDT report, “discipline appears to be the main intended goal” of the software, and 44% of teachers report that monitoring student activity has resulted in students being approached by law enforcement. “Schools have institutionalized and routinely institutionalized law enforcement access to student information,” a CDT representative told Wired. More specifically, they have institutionalized law enforcement’s access to information from marginalized students: Research shows that low-income and students of color are more likely to use school-provided devices.

The fact that school-published technology has effectively turned into spyware is particularly troubling, as a number of states are seeking to criminalize access to abortions. For example, what happens if someone in a state like Texas were to search for abortion services on their school-provided laptop? Would the police be notified?

The rights and privacy of LGBTQ+ students is also another obvious concern. Research has also found that digital surveillance programs such as Gaggle, which monitors millions of students, falsely mark LGBTQ+ content as “pornographic” and report incidents of students using sexuality-related terms such as “gay” and “lesbian.” Goggle has said this benefits LGBTQ+ students to avoid bullying and harassment. However, several incidents have been reported where the software has told children to their parents without their knowledge or consent. According to the CDT, 13% of students reported that they, or someone they knew, had revealed their gender identity or sexual orientation through student activity monitoring software.

Not only is this software a privacy nightmare, but there are also opportunity costs associated with it. School districts spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on highly problematic monitoring technology, while 94% of teachers are forced to buy school supplies out of pocket. As ACLU advocacy and policy advisor Chad Marlow told Gizmodo, every dollar spent on monitoring software is a dollar not spent paying for mental health professionals or teachers. “She [schools] miss opportunities to get real help that will actually reduce violence, help children feel more protected, and help children get the resources they need.” Ultimately, the boom in student tracking software is a depressing reminder of how little society values ​​teachers and how much it fetishizes technology. You don’t need fancy AI-powered software to find out if a child is struggling or exhibiting problematic behavior. That’s what teachers are for. That’s what school counselors are for. Shall we try funding educators for a change, instead of desperately handing over limited funds to tech bros?

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