Privacy Commissioner of Canada says some educational apps ‘need to do better’

iPads in classroom

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) says a sweep of educational apps found that some apps need to do better. The OPC took part in the fifth annual Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN) Privacy Sweep, which involved 24 data protection regulators from across the globe.

Working alongside the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner’s Office, the OPC examined a variety of privacy issues affecting over two dozen educational apps and platforms for children and youth from kindergarten to grade 12.

According to the OPC, these are examples of problems found in some of the apps:

  • Most of the apps offered details on their educational services, but the OPC said there were inconsistencies in the quality and discoverability of this information
  • There are concerns regarding how apps obtained consent to collect information; more than a third of services did not request consent from students or parents or provide teachers with resources to obtain said consent in other ways
  • Furthermore, the OPC said “only a handful” of services offered different consent mechanisms for younger and older students, despite the clear differences in ability of children of different age groups to understand safe and appropriate privacy practices
  • Only a handful of services had different consent mechanisms for younger and older students, which was surprising given the differences in the ability of younger and older children to understand safe, appropriate privacy practices
  • Some services would collect “too much” information; the OPC cited an example of a blogging platform designed for school use that looked for students’ instant messaging handles, photos and bios
  • Many services made it difficult or outright impossible to delete personal information

“We were pleased to find that many of the apps we looked at are taking important steps to protect the privacy of children and youth, for example, by offering kid-friendly explanations about why personal information is being collected,” said Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien in a press statement. “Unfortunately, we also found cases where educational apps need to do better. We were concerned to find cases where websites encouraged students to provide more personal information than was actually necessary.”

The OPC say the sweep “was not an investigation, nor was it intended to conclusively identify compliance issues or possible violations of privacy legislation.” Instead, the office says the initiative intends to encourage other organizations to comply with privacy legislation co-operate with the appropriate authorities.

The full report can be viewed here.

Outside of apps, Canadian schools have been looking at incorporating different kinds of technology into classroom settings. Chromebooks were recently named the “number-one-selling educational device for Canadian K12 schools” by education consulting firm Futuresource. As well, teachers at Toronto’s St. Michael Catholic School have been using Google Expeditions virtual reality kits to let students go on educational VR tours.

Image credit: Flickr — BarbaraLN

Source: Canada Newswire

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