The Federal Trade Commission plans to “crack down” on information technology companies that illegally monitor children using online learning platforms, according to a new policy statement the commission adopted this week.
The statement says it’s illegal for companies “to require parents and schools to waive their children’s right to privacy in order to do their homework online or attend classes remotely.” Under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998, companies are prohibited from denying access to ed-tech platforms when parents or school officials refuse to register for commercial monitoring used for marketing and advertising purposes.
“Students need to be able to do their homework without being monitored by companies that seek to harvest their data to improve their results,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau, said in a press release. “Parents shouldn’t have to choose between their children’s privacy and their participation in the digital classroom. The FTC will be watching this market closely to make sure parents aren’t forced to submit to surveillance to get their kids’ tech to turn on.
The announcement comes as the privacy of student data becomes a growing concern in K-12 schools across the country, where officials have embraced a range of digital learning tools during changes to and since distance learning in recent years. As of 2019, 40 states had enacted one or more K-12 data privacy laws to protect students from companies monitoring students for advertising purposes, and more are in the process of doing so.
According to the commission’s announcement, parents and schools have been “forced to navigate an industry dominated by the surveillance business model”, where apps and platforms collect a wealth of personal information from users, while schools are increasingly embracing new digital learning. tools.
The statement says digital learning providers must now fully comply with all provisions of the COPPA Rule, which includes mandatory collection bans, meaning companies cannot require children to provide more information. information than is reasonably necessary to participate in an activity.
In addition, the FTC said, educational technology providers who collect a child’s personal information with the school’s permission are prohibited from using that information for any other commercial purpose, including marketing or The advertisement. Digital learning companies are also prohibited from retaining children’s personal information longer than necessary to fulfill the purpose for which it was collected or for future use, and must have procedures in place to maintain the confidentiality of personal information. children’s personal information.
The policy statement says companies that fail to comply with the COPPA Rule could face potential civil penalties, as well as limitations on their business practices.
“COPPA’s collection, use and retention limits place significant restrictions on how digital companies operate in our schools,” Khan said after the committee’s 5-0 vote on Thursday to adopt the statement. Politics. “We intend to vigorously enforce these restrictions to protect children online.”