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Remote learning apps sent kids’ data and behavioural info to advertisers

Millions of children who used remote learning apps during the pandemic have had their personal data – and even behavioral information – shared with advertisers, says a new report.

This includes apps which students were required to use by their schools, says Human Rights Watch …

The organization investigated a total of 164 apps and websites endorsed by governments across multiple countries.

Governments of 49 of the world’s most populous countries harmed children’s rights by endorsing online learning products during Covid-19 school closures without adequately protecting children’s privacy, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today […]

Of the 164 EdTech products reviewed, 146 (89 percent) appeared to engage in data practices that risked or infringed on children’s rights. These products monitored or had the capacity to monitor children, in most cases secretly and without the consent of children or their parents, in many cases harvesting personal data such as who they are, where they are, what they do in the classroom, who their family and friends are, and what kind of device their families could afford for them to use.

Most online learning examined platforms installed tracking technologies that trailed children outside of their virtual classrooms and across the internet, over time. Some invisibly tagged and fingerprinted children in ways that were impossible to avoid or erase – even if children, their parents, and teachers had been aware and had the desire to do so – without destroying the device.

The group found that most online learning platforms shared children’s data with adtech companies, who then used it not just for personalized ads, but also to influence website feeds.

Many more EdTech products sent children’s data to AdTech companies that specialize in behavioral advertising or whose algorithms determine what children see online […]

These companies not only distorted children’s online experiences, but also risked influencing their opinions and beliefs at a time in their lives when they are at high risk of manipulative interference.

Families often lacked the ability to opt out of remote learning apps with poor privacy policies.

Some governments made it compulsory for students and teachers to use their EdTech product […]

Most EdTech companies did not allow students to decline to be tracked; Most of this monitoring happened secretly, without the child’s knowledge or consent. In most instances, it was impossible for children to opt out of such surveillance and data collection without opting out of compulsory education and giving up on formal learning during the pandemic.

Human Rights Watch says that it will share its evidence with anyone who wants to verify the findings, or conduct further analysis.

A previous study found that things are even worse on Android, with educational apps on that platform eight times more likely to share personal data than iOS ones.

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