Schools have responsibility but not control over pupils’ data, report says

Researchers find it ‘near-impossible’ to work out what Google collects on children through services

Credit: Markus Trier/Pixabay

The government should regulate data gathered on children by education technology (EdTech) services through its data reform bill, rather than continue to hold schools responsible for this, according to a new report by the Digital Futures Commission.

“It is near-impossible to discover what data is collected by EdTech. Data collection is so extensive that we think that once combined, it is likely to be sufficient to construct a full profile of each individual child, including their identity, location, biometrics, preferences and abilities,” report author and human rights barrister Louise Hooper said at the launch of ‘Problems with data governance in UK schools: the cases of Google Classroom and ClassDojo’ on 31 August.

Hooper illustrated this with a complex flow chart of Google’s privacy documents relating to its services for schools. She highlighted the differences between relatively strong data protection terms applied to education-focused services including Google Classroom which stop applying when a child moves to other Google products such as YouTube or Maps, something which usually happens seamlessly.

The authors recommended that as part of reforming UK data protection law the government includes specific rules for EdTech suppliers “to relieve schools of the impossible burden of managing data protection without impeding uses of education data to benefit children and the wider public interest,” said Sonia Livingstone, a professor at the London School of Economics and research lead of the Digital Futures Commission.

The report examines Google Classroom and ClassDojo, an app designed to help teachers manage pupil behaviour, as they were both widely-adopted by schools to provide remote and hybrid learning during the pandemic rather than because of specific concerns about the products. It notes that Google has changed the way it handles children’s data in the Netherlands following an investigation, but does not appear to have done this in the UK.

The Digital Futures Commission is a group of organisations researching the benefits and impacts of digital innovation on children and young people, with funding from campaigning charity 5Rights Foundation and funding in kind from the London School of Economics.

Sam Trendall

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