According to a new report published by Human Rights Watch, children around the world and in Canada who used online educational technology during the pandemic had their personal data secretly collected and sent to advertising companies.
According to the report, these online educational products had the ability to monitor children and collect data on “who they are, where they are, what they are doing in class, who their family and friends are, and what kind of device their family could afford to use.”
“Swarm of Invisible Stalkers”
Sometimes, the moment a child entered their e-learning website, “they were surrounded by a swarm of invisible trackers,” said Hye Jung Han, report author and researcher at the Human Rights Division. Child from Human Rights Watch (HRW). .
“The equivalent would be a child sitting in a physical classroom with a surveillance camera trained on him to capture every time the child scratches his nose,” she said.
HRW said it investigated online learning platforms approved by 49 governments, including Canada, for educating children during the pandemic between March and August 2021.
Of the 164 e-learning products reviewed, nearly 90% were found to “risk or infringe children’s rights and privacy in some way,” Han said.
The educational website CBC Kids was singled out in the report as a case study and named as one of eight websites that used “canvas fingerprinting” – a method to track its users’ internet activities. The report found that a total of 20 companies involved in advertising and marketing received data about children from CBC Kids.
HRW notes that the site has been recommended by the Quebec Ministry of Education for preschool and elementary-aged children.
But the public broadcaster rejected the report’s findings.
“While we applaud the work of what Human Rights Watch is doing to protect children, they respectfully called us incorrectly,” CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said.
“Put simply, we do not, do not collect, and will not share children’s data with third-party ad trackers. To say the same is as irresponsible as it is egregious.”
According to the report, most educational technology companies did not disclose their monitoring of children through their data and most online learning platforms installed tracking technologies that tracked children outside their classrooms. virtual classrooms, to other applications and websites on the Internet.
“Extremely Sensitive Information”
Han said some learning apps, if they had access to a child’s precise location data, could determine where children lived or spent most of their time, whether in their living room or bedroom.
“So this is extremely sensitive information that could be exposed to misuse and exploitation,” she said.
Some of the tracking and monitoring practices were “so insidious and so persistent,” Han said, that there was “in fact no way to protect your child from these trackers unless you threw the device away.” your child in the trash”.
She said most of the data is sent to ad tech companies, a sort of “middleman” who then sell to advertisers looking to target children.
According to the HRW report, these companies could analyze data to guess a child’s personal characteristics and interests, and predict what a child might do next and how they might be influenced.
Matthew Johnson, director of education at MediaSmarts, an Ottawa-based digital media education center, said he went to the CBC Kids website and discovered a “surprising amount of data collection” that was taking place there.
But he said the biggest concern was the collection of student data into learning management systems in general.
“Now that students are back in school, it really gives us the opportunity to take a closer look at how learning management systems, and educational websites and apps more broadly, collect and use student data,” he said.