Report Reveals Surveillance Abuses In Educational Technology

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The report was commissioned by Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal and Edward J. Markey.

A report examining the use of four educational technology companies’ usage of artificial intelligence was released on Wednesday, following a request from Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. back in 2021.

The companies in question—, Bark Technologies, GoGuardian and Securly Inc.—were found to have misused surveillance technology while students were using the products. The report specifically noted that software monitoring student activity may have been misused for disciplinary purposes resulting in contact with law enforcement and that schools and parents have not been made aware of the use of data being gathered by these softwares.

Additionally, some of the software companies may not have taken adequate action to understand if student activity monitoring software disproportionately targets a select racial group or LGBTQ+ students, further exacerbating the disparities marginalized groups face. 

“Absent federal action, these surveillance products may continue to put students’ civil rights, safety and privacy at risk,” the report reads. 

This report builds on increased concerns over artificial intelligence and surveillance technology’s potential for biased algorithms that target vulnerable communities. 

A lack of legal regulation and oversight contribute to the interest legislators have in investigating uses of artificial intelligence, particularly in the private sector. These specific concerns follow a report issued by the Center for Democracy and Technology documenting inappropriate surveillance of students. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, virtual learning stands to be more prevalent––meaning more opportunities for surveillance in educational technology to be used. 

“We strongly support measures that will protect students and ensure student safety, and we share the urgency that school districts are facing to identify ways to keep students safe. As school districts look ahead, they must decide which safety tools and systems to use in order to protect student safety.” the senators wrote. “It is crucial that the tools school districts select will keep students safe while also protecting their privacy, and that they do not exacerbate racial inequities and other unintended harms.”