June 18, 2024


Super Technology

FTC to ‘Crack Down’ on Ed Tech, Student Data Privacy


The Federal Trade Commission plans to “crack down” on ed-tech companies that illegally surveil children using online learning platforms, according to a new policy statement the commission adopted this week.

The statement said it’s illegal for companies “to force parents and schools to surrender their children’s privacy rights in order to do schoolwork online or attend class remotely.” Under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998, it said, companies are prohibited from denying access to ed-tech platforms when parents or school officials refuse to sign up for commercial surveillance used for marketing and advertising purposes.

“Students must be able to do their schoolwork without surveillance by companies looking to harvest their data to pad their bottom line,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a news release. “Parents should not have to choose between their children’s privacy and their participation in the digital classroom. The FTC will be closely monitoring this market to ensure that parents are not being forced to surrender to surveillance for their kids’ technology to turn on.”

The announcement comes as student data privacy becomes a growing concern in K-12 schools across the country, where officials have adopted an array of digital learning tools during shifts to and from remote learning in recent years. As of 2019, 40 states had enacted one or more K-12 data privacy laws to protect students from companies monitoring students for advertising purposes, and others are in the process of doing so.

According to the announcement from the commission, parents and schools have been “forced to navigate an industry that is dominated by the commercial surveillance business model,” where apps and platforms collect a trove of personal information from users, as schools increasingly adopt new digital learning tools.

The statement said that digital learning providers must now comply fully with all provisions of the COPPA rule, which includes prohibitions against mandatory collection, meaning companies cannot require children to provide more information than is reasonably needed for participation in an activity.

In addition, the FTC said, ed-tech providers that collect personal information from a child with the school’s authorization are prohibited from using information for any other commercial purpose including marketing or advertising. Digital learning companies are also prohibited from keeping children’s personal information for longer than is necessary to fulfill the purpose for which it was collected or for future use, and must have procedures in place to maintain the confidentiality of children’s personal information.

The policy statement said companies that fail to follow the COPPA rule could face potential civil penalties, as well as limitations on their business practices.

“The collection, use and retention limitations of COPPA place notable restrictions on how digital companies operate in our schools,” a statement from Khan said following the commission’s 5-0 vote Thursday to adopt the policy statement. “We intend to vigorously enforce these restrictions in order to protect children online.”


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