(New York) – The overwhelming majority of education technology (EdTech) products endorsed by 49 governments of the world’s most populous countries and analyzed by Human Rights Watch appear to have surveilled or had the capacity to surveil children in ways that risked or infringed on their rights, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch released technical evidence and easy-to-view privacy profiles for 163 EdTech products recommended for children’s learning during the pandemic.
Of the 163 products reviewed, 145 (89 percent) surveilled or had the capacity to surveil children, outside school hours, and deep into their private lives. Many products were found to harvest information about children such as who they are, where they are, what they do in the classroom, who their family and friends are, and what kind of device their families could afford for them to use for online learning. This evidence underpins the May 25, 2022 report, “‘How Dare They Peep into My Private Life?’: Children’s Rights Violations by Governments that Endorsed Online Learning during the Covid-19 Pandemic.”
“Children, parents, and teachers were largely kept in the dark about the data surveillance practices we uncovered in children’s online classrooms,” said Hye Jung Han, children’s rights and technology researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “By understanding how these online learning tools handled their child’s privacy, people can more effectively demand protection for children online.”
Few governments checked whether the EdTech products they rapidly endorsed during the Covid-19 pandemic were safe for children to use. Many governments put at risk or violated children’s rights directly. Of the 42 governments that provided online education to children by building and offering their own EdTech products for use, 39 governments made products that handled children’s personal data in ways that risked or infringed on their rights.
Human Rights Watch found that the data surveillance took place in educational settings where children could not reasonably object to such surveillance. Most companies did not allow students to decline to be tracked, and most of this monitoring happened secretly, without the child or their family’s knowledge or consent. In most instances, it was impossible for children to opt out of such surveillance without giving up on their formal education during the pandemic.
The evidence includes easy-to-view privacy profiles, which are designed for parents, teachers, and others to help them understand how government-recommended EdTech products may have handled children’s data and their privacy at the time of analysis. Human Rights Watch invites experts, journalists, policymakers, and readers to test and engage with the data and technical evidence.
Human Rights Watch has initiated a global campaign, #StudentsNotProducts, which brings together parents, teachers, children, and allies to demand protections for children online.
“Children are priceless, not products,” Han said. “Governments should adopt and enforce modern child data protection laws to stop the surveillance of children by actors who don’t have children’s best interests at heart.”