2/11/2021 Privacy in tools for distance learning

Ministry of Science and Education, relevant agencies and institutions have shown complete disregard for the protection of personal data and privacy of students while implementing a new model of distance learning. In all documents pertaining to online school classes, privacy had not been taken into consideration, even when different software tools for teaching were recommended. A vivid example of this complete lack of awareness and interest in privacy issues within the Croatian education system is the website www.skolazazivot.hr. The website is a focal point for information on online school classes and access to online teaching content. The site is tracked by no less than four trackers (tracking technologies) which are placed on the device of each visitor without consent, while the data about student online behavior is shared with Facebook, Google and ShareThis.

This analysis aims to raise awareness among relevant stakeholders on the importance of safeguarding privacy and personal data of students in the digital environment, to influence choices of tools for online school classes and to provide recommendations which improve detected practices.

Due to the lack of education and awareness, schools often choose tools of IT giants (such as Google and Microsoft), which are troubled by numerous privacy scandals. By using tools of these companies (Teams and Classroom), student data becomes a part of an illegal and non-transparent data processing structure created primarily for the system of programmed auctions, for the purpose of displaying advertisements.

Although Zoom has made strong steps forward in areas of ​​security and privacy since scandals in March and April, it has not yet dealt away with open questions on tracking users for marketing purposes and selling data to third parties. It is disappointing that CARNET’s Loomen has serious flaws detected in the analysis of its Privacy Notice. However, since it is a digital solution owned by a Croatian public body, the risk of too extensive data collection and profiling for marketing purposes is significantly lower than with big tech software tools.

Politiscope recommends the use of open source solutions that are installed on schools’ own servers. This way, complete control of student privacy is achieved. Schools themselves determine the scope of data collection, create their own privacy policy, inform students about their rights of privacy and protection of personal data. In this way, a school can be transformed into an institution where civic digital skills and competencies are acquired. BigBlueButton is recommended for online school classes while Jitsi Meet is the recommended service for smaller video conferencing conversations.

Photo: Electronic Frontier Foundation