Students Not Products

We think our kids are safe in school online. But many of them are being surveilled, and parents have often been kept in the dark. Kids are priceless, not products.

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Children depend on technology to learn, more than ever.

Bedrooms and kitchens turned into classrooms overnight, as Covid-19 plunged children, parents, and teachers into online learning so kids could continue to learn safely.

Six months into the pandemic, the amount of time kids around the world spent in education apps increased


Governments rapidly endorsed the use of education technologies (EdTech).

But in the rush to connect kids to virtual classrooms, many governments failed to check that their EdTech recommendations were safe for children to use.

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Human Rights Watch examined more than 150 EdTech products, recommended by 49 governments of the world's most populated countries, to check how they handled children's data.

Here is what we found

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An invisible swarm of tracking technologies surveils our kids throughout their day.


of the EdTech products we looked at monitored or could monitor children, in most cases secretly and without the consent of children or their parents.

Some harvested data on who children are, where they are, and what they do in their virtual classroom. Others took information about who their family and friends are, and what kind of device their families could afford for them to use.

Many online learning platforms installed tracking technologies that followed children across the internet after they left their virtual classroom, outside of school hours and deep into their private lives.

Some invisibly tagged and fingerprinted children in ways that were impossible to get rid of—even if children, their parents, and teachers knew what was happening and wanted to do so—without throwing the device away in the trash.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s happening.

Here's what might happen to a 9-year-old. Let's call her Laila.

Laila opens up the EdTech app that her school uses for online learning, and logs in for class.

Instantly, the app begins to collect personal data about Laila. This can include who Laila is, where she is, what she does, who she interacts with in her virtual classroom, and what kind of device her parents can afford for her to use.

Advertising technology (AdTech) companies help put ads in apps. They make packages of code, such as software development kits (SDKs) and other tracking technologies, for app makers to insert into their apps to personalize and display ads to their users.

Laila’s data may be sent to AdTech companies, either by the EdTech app, or directly by the AdTech SDKs embedded in the app. In the process, AdTech companies assign an ID number to Laila, which could allow them to piece together the data they receive to build a profile on her.

Some AdTech companies could also follow Laila across the internet and over time. Some companies may search for even more information about her from public and private sources, adding definition and detail to a personal profile of Laila.

AdTech companies’ sophisticated algorithms may analyze the trove of data received from the app. They may guess at Laila’s personal characteristics and interests, and predict her future behavior.

AdTech companies use these insights to sell to advertisers the ability to target ads to people likely to be interested in the message. This happens through real-time bidding platforms, where algorithms sell to the highest bidding advertiser the chance to show an ad to a user—in this case, Laila, a 9-year-old.

These insights can also be sold or shared with data brokers, law enforcement and governments, or others who wish to target a defined group of people with similar characteristics online.

We found that


EdTech products

directly sent or granted access to children’s personal data to


AdTech companies

How dare they? How dare [these companies] peep into my private life?


9, Istanbul, Turkey

Check the EdTech product your child uses for school.

We created easy-to-read Privacy Profiles for all 163 EdTech products. These are designed to help you understand how these products are handling your child’s data and privacy.

GovernmentEdTech ProductsSnapshots

Want to learn more?

Dive deeper into our research.

Children shouldn't be compelled to give up their privacy in order to learn.

Children should be safe in school, whether that’s in person or online. They’re entitled to special protections that guard their privacy and the space for them to grow, play, and learn.

Most EdTech products were offered at no direct cost to governments. By endorsing and enabling the wide adoption of EdTech products, many governments offloaded the true costs of providing online education onto children, who were forced to pay for their learning with their privacy.

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Governments failed to protect children.

Of the 49 governments we looked at:

  • 48 endorsed at least one EdTech product that risked or infringed on children’s rights.
  • 39 built and offered their own EdTech products, which risked or infringed on children’s rights.
This is scary. Especially us kids, we blindly trust our country, the whole education system, because we don’t question these things yet. We don’t have enough experience. … As kids, we feel powerless. What can I even do as a kid to stop these companies? That idea itself hurts a lot.


16, Uttar Pradesh, India

Protect our children.
Act now.

Governments can protect our kids by passing modern child data protection laws.

By demanding protections for how our children’s data is handled, you can help defend our children from being surveilled in online classrooms by actors who may not have our children’s best interests at heart.

Governments and companies alike need laws to make sure that they respect children’s rights, in both the physical and the online world. Enforcement of these laws would help hold them accountable if they fail to do so.

Ask your lawmaker to act now.

We’ve put together the information you need to take control. Join the parents, teachers, kids, and allies all over the world demanding protections for our kids and their data.

Read the report

Global Commitment

I will protect my kids online by:

  1. 1. Learn

    Learning how EdTech products harmed children’s rights during the Covid-19 pandemic.

  2. 2. Share

    Sharing information with my friends, family, and other parents to help them make sense of the potential harms that children face when using education technology.

  3. 3. Ask

    Asking my child’s school about the education technology they use, and what they’re doing to protect kids and their data.

  4. 4. Call

    Calling on my government to immediately stop the further misuse and exploitation of children’s data collected in online classrooms.