Several governments and companies have taken steps, or announced future steps, to protect millions of children in their online classrooms. These moves come after Human Rights Watch uncovered children’s rights violations worldwide by governments that authorized unsafe online learning products during the Covid-19 pandemic.
France’s education ministry removed ad tracking from websites it built to help eight to eleven-year old children learn English and German. Indonesia’s education ministry removed ad tracking from the website it built, though not from its app, to provide learning to children during school closures.
The governments of Australia’s states of New South Wales and Victoria, along with Ecuador and Spain’s autonomous community of Catalonia, informed Human Rights Watch that they opened investigations into their authorized learning platforms. In the United Kingdom, an opposition lawmaker called for one company to delete children’s data it collected.
In India, a member of parliament called upon the government to protect children in online education. Together with the news outlet WIRED and Nathaniel Fried, an intelligence software researcher, we reported that India’s government had exposed the personal data of nearly 600,000 children through its learning app. The exposure has since been fixed.
Four companies – eboard, Humanitus, schoolFox, and Storyline Online – stopped surveilling children and re-engineered their products to prevent it from happening again. Two others, DragonLearn and SABAQ Learning Systems, removed their products from the market.
Two advertising technology companies, Data Chemistry and Ve Global, informed Human Rights Watch that they severed ties with education companies that sent them children’s personal information and took steps to prevent these companies from doing so again.
Together, these changes are protecting millions of children in Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, and the US. They prove that it is possible to deliver online education to children without compelling them to give up their privacy.
These are welcome developments, but we cannot rely on individual actors to do better. Many of the 49 governments and 290 companies we investigated continue to surveil children online, citing the lack of laws compelling them to do otherwise.
Online learning tools are here to stay, even as students return to physical classrooms. Governments should adopt and enforce child data protection laws that protect all children as they learn, grow, and play online.
Learn more about our global campaign, #StudentsNotProducts, to demand online protections for children.