Privacy and GAFE

2 min read

Spark, CBC Radio's digital culture program hosted by Nora Young (who, along with Michael Geist, will be one of the keynotes at this years BCNET conference) is looking for people to take part in an upcoming show about Google's role in education. Whether you are a student, educator, school administrator, or parent, Spark hopes to hear from you about Google's increasing presence in the public education system.

One parent who has something to say happens to be one of my BCcampus colleagues, Brad Payne. About 2 years ago, our local k-12 school district rolled out Google Apps for Education (GAFE), asking parents in the district to provide written consent for our kids to use GAFE.

Recently, Brad made a presentation to the school district arguing that parental consent is an insufficient mechanism to protect the privacy of children using GAFE for four reasons;

1. It assumes parents have adequate digital literacy to make informed choices about their children’s privacy.

2. It assumes school district immunity despite obligations under Section 79.1.b of the B.C. School Act.

3. It assumes Google has incentive to adequately inform parents about the risks of data retention, profiling and automated decision making.

4. It assumes computational statistical inferences derived from machine learning algorithms doesn’t threaten the privacy of children.

Payne, 2018

All are valid concerns, but it is the last one that nails it for me, and reinforces his first concern about whether parents have enough digital literacy to adequately make an informed decision. And, even if you are highly digitally literate and aware enough to ask the question about what is happening behind the scenes with your child's data, it's very possible Google might not be able to actually tell you as there is growing suspicion that major technology companies don't even know themselves what happens inside their own black boxes. It really does, as Brad suggests,

…create a situation where the balance of power is not with parents, and those who could be better informed are consenting to a long term legal agreement that is onerous, ambiguous and unspecific. 

Payne 2018

Source: Open Letter to School District 61 on the use of Google Apps For Education (GAFE), Brad Payne, February 18, 2017

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