Could your student's school devices be violating privacy, used against them?

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Could your student’s school devices be violating their privacy, in ways it could be used against them?

A new report said the student surveillance company called Go Guardian and others like it have access to sensitive data that does just this.

Gun violence, historical topics, political parties and even news along with counseling and therapy websites are just some of the content being flagged by student surveillance company Go Guardian. That’s acording to a report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for rights online in the digital world.

“We just got these huge datasets where go guardian was flagging, as they call it, students for just doing their homework for looking for jobs online for doing the things that you expect kids to do,” said Dave Maass, director of investigations at EFF.

According to EFF, 88% of districts report using a student activity monitoring software, the most common being Go Guardian. Three school districts in Texas — Lake Travis ISD, Alvord ISD and South West ISD — handed over data in which EFF analyzed.

“Each one of these alerts, these flags essentially…attached to a particular student, which could flag that student for attention for discipline could reveal things about that student that they would prefer to be private, may eventually even make its way to law enforcement,” Maass said.

Lake Travis ISD said it’s had the software since 2015, and hasn’t had any issues or concerns with the software.

While we responded to EFF’s request for records via the Texas Public Information Act, Lake Travis ISD was not directly made aware of the final report or its findings…GoGuardian Admin is used solely for content filtering of potential harmful or obscene content when accessing the internet. Lake Travis ISD does not use the software feature “Flagged Activity” to monitor or flag content or sites, and all “Flagged Activity Notifications” are disabled. The protection and maintenance of student data is of utmost concern. Access to such data is highly secured and limited to senior IT administrators only. We will continue to do everything possible to provide safe and secure access to digital resources that support student learning.”

Lake Travis ISD

But other districts are using this feature, getting as many as 50,000 warnings a day, according to EFF. Some of those warnings tied to historical descriptions of slavery, the Holocaust and sexual discrimination.

In some cases, the software gave districts the option to track trends in student search histories to identify “at risk” students.

EFF created a “Red Flag Quiz,” using real data from Go Guardian it obtained from a few school districts to show which keywords are triggering alerts. 

The Texas Public Policy foundation said it’s a difficult topic. 

“Parents in particular for their kids should know when information is being collected on them,” said David Dunmoyer with TPPF. “They should be able to exercise the right to opt out of that, if that’s something they’re not comfortable with…there’s still such a pressing need to ensure kids are kept safe from harmful content.”

Maass said he doesn’t think most data being flagged by Go Guardian is useful.

“It’s hard to really say that, you know, like this is on the whole is having a more positive impact than a negative one,” Maass said. “I honestly don’t know how they even find the dangerous stuff in there. I look at a month worth of data, I see 15,000 minimum items in there. I don’t even know how you would find a student who’s having problems. It’s just that much stuff to sort through.”

Go Guardian told us it does take student privacy into consideration.

“Schools have a responsibility to keep students safe in digital spaces and on school-issued devices. Go Guardian provides educators with the ability to protect students from harmful or explicit content as required by federal law, while giving access to legitimate education tools. To learn more about Go Guardian’s proactive approach to student privacy, please visit https://www.goguardian.com/privacy-information.”

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