Educational Software is the new spyware

We’ve all seen it — how your teacher is monitoring your screen. Or at least how most of them do.  With everything connected to a cloud or a portal, school administration implements their monitoring software for school-issued technologies. Monitoring software is made up of in-built applications, as determined by the school district, that students cannot alter. This software has a myriad of uses, such as screen monitoring, safety flagging, and one-on-one teacher and student chat. A more invasive safety and teacher aid software, Go-Guardian, is used here at Akins and in many other schools. In a time where data is the new oil, Go-Guardian raises concerns and questions over the protection of student privacy and data.
We believe that GoGuardian and other school monitoring software should only be allowed when a student shows reasonable suspicion of harming themselves or others. The school administration shouldn’t be allowed to use this software to unreasonably spy on students through their camera or viewing their screen. This is a violation of our right to privacy, something that the public school system should do its best to enforce and protect. However, one of the school administration’s top priorities is to protect their students’ well-being. Therefore, the administration should be allowed to step in only in situations when that well-being is credibly at risk. 

GoGuardian and school monitoring software in general raises privacy concerns. According to a Wired Magazine article, there have been multiple reports of cameras being turned on without students’ permission in some other school districts. Sometimes, monitoring software would record audio and video without families’ consent. In some cases, school districts don’t even have to reveal how much monitoring they do. The Fourth  Amendment is supposed to protect citizens’ privacy. With the use of monitoring software, however, students don’t have privacy when every keystroke is logged, webpage tracked, and every digital movement tracked. As a result of this tracking, most of us know at least one person who has gotten in trouble due to this tracking. 

GoGuardian isn’t outright racist, however, it does discriminate based on economic class. Students who are minorities tend to depend more on school devices than white students, who can afford to use their personal devices. Those who also use their personal devices are forced to download multiple apps. Instead of installing all of those apps, most students just prefer to use school-issued devices. Those who depend on school devices are in turn more likely to be disciplined by the school.

GoGuardian and all the monitoring software that our school has also watches us at our house. When students go home, they’re still being watched by our school. Theoretically, when a student goes home, they should be able to not be watched by our school. While administrators believe that keeping an eye on kids while at home protects everyone. On the contrary, very little evidence exists that shows that monitoring software protects students. GoGuardian, and software just like it, provide a false sense of security. We shouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on software that may or may not protect students, and spend money where it’s needed like to pay for school supplies or provide more mental health professionals to students.

The final reason we are against monitoring software is, we don’t know what happens to our data that is collected. When looking at GoGuardian’s website, it says that “schools always maintain certain rights over their student data”. It doesn’t explain what rights the school has. Many companies use the, we do not sell your data statement, yet are always caught selling data to 3rd parties. GoGuardian’s source code isn’t open source, so we don’t know what tracking it does too. Many questions are raised about how GoGuardian protects students, and those questions aren’t answered, which makes us weary of what tracking GoGuardian does. 

Many students agree that they don’t like GoGuardian and how it invades privacy, but why do they use it? What is it mainly used for? GoGuardian is used to help protect students and to keep them on task with their schoolwork. It is reasonable that teachers want the students to do their work instead of wasting time or looking at not school-appropriate objects during class and school. GoGuardian allows the teacher to look at what the student is doing during class in order to keep them on track. GoGuardian has allowed schools to block certain websites that they deem as inappropriate or unsafe. Websites may include inappropriate and not age-appropriate content that kids should not be looking at in school and games that they think are inappropriate for school like the games that may make someone outraged and make those games a reality.

GoGuardian also allows administrators to look at what a kid is looking at for safety reasons as well, this includes search history, active searching, and websites that are visited. These may seem as if it is going too far into the student’s privacy but I assure you that they only do this in order to keep the students safe. They pay attention to keywords because if a person was to look something up it had to be of some purpose. These keywords are words that include harming oneself or others. They want to make sure no one is planning on causing harm at school or anywhere else because they care about the students in this way. They may care because they are responsible for us when in school but also because sometimes it is to give help to those who are going through a rough time and doesn’t feel the need to reach out.

Administrators in Schools should only be able to watch a student if they search up a string of related items. A student shouldn’t get flagged for briefly mentioning a dark topic or a text message sent to a loved one or one’s relationship through the school’s network. A pattern must be developed by the student in them searching for information relating to weapons, building layouts, and suspicious websites for an extended period of time. COPPA Only allows schools to search a student’s data only with consent by the parent, and also must provide a notice for why they’re searching their student. An application should not be able to invade a students privacy simply because a teacher suspects them of not doing their work. Software should only be used on any student who is actively searching for information that could jeopardize their schools safety for other students and staff. 

We believe in students privacy and safety, as not only does this invasion of privacy cause us to lose trust in how school handles things. Using these methods don’t have to be so invasive, they should be used as a sense of security when needed and not as a restriction border. Students should be able to use school technology and feel safe while doing so.