Beginning in March of 2020 as a result of COVID-19, many schools began to transition to online learning. Various school districts have taken to Zoom, Schoology Conference, Google Meeting and Google’s G Suite for Education to teach their students. However, there are significant security, privacy, FERPA and FOIA concerns involved with these online platforms at this time. All of these technologies track user interactions and most track location data, chats, calls, video calls, files, etc. Many school districts don’t set their security permissions to block most of the privacy and security issues. Furthermore, even after setting such permissions to limit privacy and security issues, the applications still track user data, such as those listed above. Not only does this raise serious concerns for school administrations, but for parents as well.
On April 3, 2020, Westport’s Interim Superintendent, David Abbey, sent an email to Westport families acknowledging concerns that Zoom did not comply with Connecticut’s Student Data Privacy law. Additionally, there had been a number of well-publicized and troubling security breaches. With this knowledge, Superintendent Abbey failed to ensure that privacy rights of students and educators were protected. Such privacy and security issues should have been resolved prior to putting the program into place. With the significant surge in videoconferencing software, specifically from school districts, the actions and precautions taken by Zoom, Schoology Conference and Google Meeting bring into question the safety and legality of their remote learning services. As the flaws of Zoom and Google become more apparent, students and educators must be aware of their entitled privacy under the protections afforded by FEPRA and FOIA. They must ensure their child’s information is being protected and not provided to any of these companies.
Below is some background that you should be aware of as your children use these platforms. I am putting in place certain services that you can use to protect your children’s privacy, including FERPA requests. Feel free to reach out to me if you would like assistance in ensuring your child’s safety and privacy rights are protected.
In the time frame of three months, Zoom has become a household name—exponentially growing from 10 million users to 200 million users daily. With the standard Zoom account, Zoom maintains access to the private information of its users, including their on-screen profile, login credentials and search history. Since students and educators are now accessing their education in private settings, the question of whether Zoom will remain compliant with FERPA is becoming apparent; it does not. Moreover, within the last couple of months, “Zoombombing” has abruptly interrupted classroom lectures. Zoombombing is the ability of uninvited individuals to gain access to Zoom meetings, communicate and post messages and images. During these Zoombombing raids, users have been attacked with hate speech, pornography and sexual harassment. Multiple schools, such as Westlake High School, USC and UC Berkeley have spoken out about Zoombombing, encouraging Zoom to prioritize the security of its users. Zoom has acknowledged flaws in its security and privacy policies and is attempting to rectify these problems. However, as of the date of this writing, not all of the material security and privacy issues have been resolved. I highly encourage you to discuss your child’s use of Zoom with them to ensure that they are safe.
With respect to Google’s G Suite for Education services, in February 2020, New Mexico’s Attorney General sued Google for violating federal law designed to protect the online privacy of children. The Attorney General accused Google of collecting and accessing the locations, passwords and search histories of students without their consent. Unfortunately, lawsuits against Google do not end with New Mexico’s Attorney General. Recently, two students from Illinois sued Google for violating Illinois’ biometric privacy law. Like Zoom, Google collects data on your children and their use of G Suite for Education.
As students and parents navigate the new online teaching paradigm, it is important that you are aware of potential privacy and security vulnerabilities. There are certain actions that you can take to ensure that your school district removes access, by Zoom, Google and other applications, of your child’s data. I’m available to help you ensure that these platforms have limited access to your child’s information so that your child learns in a secure and safe environment. I can be reached by phone or email, at your convenience.