Investigation finds that edtech surveillance platforms need “urgent federal action” to safeguard students
On March 30, Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren released findings from an October 2021 investigation they had opened into four educational technology companies, Gaggle.net, Bark Technologies, GoGuardian, and Securly Inc., with an interest in understanding “their use of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithmic systems to monitor students’ online activity,” according to a media release. The leaders were hoping to uncover whether the products were “surveilling students inappropriately compounding racial disparities in school discipline, and draining resources from more effective student supports.” Having developed a 14 page report, the senators reached the following conclusions:
- “Student activity monitoring software may be misused for disciplinary purposes and result in increased contact with law enforcement. A survey of teachers revealed that 43% reported that their schools are using these tools to identify violations of discipline policies, revealing that these products may be exacerbating the school-to-prison pipeline by increasing law enforcement interactions with students.”
- “Software companies have not taken any steps to determine whether student activity monitoring software disproportionately targets students from marginalized groups, leaving schools in the dark. None of the companies that the senators contacted have analyzed their products for potential discriminatory bias – even though there is data indicating that students from marginalized groups, particularly students of color, face disparities in discipline, and more recent studies indicate that algorithms are more likely to flag language used by people of color and LGBTQ+ students as problematic.”
- “Schools, parents and communities are not being appropriately informed of the use – and potential misuse – of the data. Three of the four monitoring software companies indicated that they do not directly alert students and guardians of their surveillance.”
- “Regulatory and legal gaps exacerbate the risks of student activity monitoring software. There is an urgent need for increased coordination between federal agencies to clarify and evaluate existing guidelines to protect student safety and privacy, to improve data collection to determine whether these products pose risks to students’ civil rights, and to address these problems when they are confirmed.”
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.