Parents say curb commercial data

Global parent surveys shows great optimism about the benefits of internet in schools, but strong desire to curb commercial data mining and profiling

Surveys of nearly 5,500 parents in 11 countries around the world, including Europe, Asia and North America, show that parents have high hopes for the contribution that internet applications can make to their children’s education, especially when it comes to acquiring skills relevant to the modern global economy. At the same time, the vast majority of parents worry that internet companies are tracking and profiling their children’s online activities at school for advertising purposes, and they want such practices banned. Specifically, parents want stronger government regulations against online data mining in schools that isn’t directly related to improving academic performance, and they want schools to forbid such practices.

The findings are based on a series of surveys conducted for SafeGov aimed at capturing global parents’ views on the benefits and risks of proliferating in-school access to internet applications such as email, document creation and group collaboration. 

The surveys show that two-thirds of parents are aware that internet companies are tracking and profiling their children’s online behaviour and email habits at school for ad-related purposes – parents in Europe, Middle East and Africa are slightly more aware (66%) than in Asia (55%) or the U.S. (51%); 

Concern about these practices grows as parents learn more about them; 74% of parents want the ability to opt-out of such practices on behalf of their children.

Parents see outright bans against ad-related tracking and profiling in schools as well as stronger government regulations as an indispensable requirement for safe in-school access to internet applications: 88% say schools should require companies to offer a privacy policy with strict guarantees against user profiling that is not related to the delivery of education services, 88% say schools should insist on contracts that expressly ban the exploitation of children’s email for non-education purposes. A further 79% support the school adopting rules of conduct forbidding outside companies to profile children, and 75% support governments passing much stricter laws giving parents complete control over what information, if any, can be collected about their children at school.

While 70% of parents say schools bear the most responsibility to deal with this issue, many also believe parents (31%), internet companies (29%) and the government (24%) have the primary role. Only 5% of parents globally place responsibility on the children themselves. 

Jeff Gould, President of SafeGov, commented: ‘The Internet is already transforming the way schools operate in nearly every country, and I look forward to a time in the not too distant future when every schoolchild will have a smart device on his or her desk. Still, what is striking about these results is that despite having great faith in the value of Internet apps in the classroom, parents clearly don’t want commercial companies exploiting their children’s online activities in ways that have nothing to do with education. 

“In the wake of recent revelations about massive invasions of users’ online privacy by both intelligence agencies and internet advertising companies, regulators in the European Union, the United States and Asia must take a closer look at the practices of ad-driven businesses now present in schools all across the world. Some of these companies maintain a tight cloak of secrecy around the data mining capabilities of their technology, and fail to disclose the full scope of their activities to school officials, who often lack the time or technological sophistication to examine these offerings more carefully.’