Privacy pirates, policy, and consumerism: Rated “R” for resist


I can’t believe I’m going to say this but … all this news about data mining in new edu-ventures by corporate sponsored curricula and testing makes me long for the days of passive television entertainment.

The American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC) crafts “model” legislation behind closed doors with coprorations and state policy makers, which will authorizie edu-tech corporations to come directly into our classrooms as the new LEA’s, thus permitting them access to our childrens’ private data. As corporate data mining sneaks into our schools, like that exposed recently by a piece by Jonathan Pelto indicates, I long for Dora The Explorer. While corporations like Chromebooks now DIRECTLY market their products via “curriculum” and use my child’s data to serve their own financial interests, and sway their patterns of behavior and consumption with little or no intermediaries I miss days gone by when “interactive engagement of behavior” meant my kids shouting “Abuela!” at the TV screen following Dora’s prompt, “Can you say grandmother in Spanish with me?” Or, those times when commercials insisted my child “must have the latest” X,Y,Z item, when at least I was able to act as the ultimate screen between my child and the corporations, with the parental power to say “No” –or at least say, “tell Grandma you want that for Christmas” by which time they’ve usually forgotten they wanted X, Y, or Z in the first place.

Now, as Pelto reveals, “Google explicitly admits for the first time that it scans the email of Google Apps for Education users for ad-serving purposes even when ad serving is turned off.” – 1/31/14

The “medium is the message” as McLuhan says. Before the age of online interactive games, curriculum, and the Internet…before NSA…. marketing to children consisted of television programming and product placement in school buildings via vending machines, sponsoring school events, and sales to school cafeterias. I’ve been historically been adamantly opposed to these coprorate ventures! And we keep moving in the wrong direction-away from the interests and welfare of children, selling them out to powerful billionaires.

The tactics of Chromebooks, inBloom, and the education technology industry are really no different than those of companies who, back in the 1980’s, launched a mega campaign to cater commercials to children. They were attempting to create early childhood brand loyalty and realized that children were a million dollar untapped industry. According to the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, “In what the industry calls a ‘cradle-to-grave’ strategy, marketers want to get to children early, often, and in as many places as they can – not just to sell them products and services, but to turn them into life-long consumers.”

And now, the tentacles are far more reaching, and insidious. The profit potential far greater. The control? Intoxicating. Using Common Core and high stakes testing (PARCC via Pearson and SBAC via inBloom), corporations can by-pass all other filters (aka parents and teachers). There are fewer people or firewalls left between children and the corporate interests who see them as little more than (at best) a consumer and (at worst), a product.

ALEC’s latest round of legislation, called The Student Achievement Backpack states:

This bill provides access by a student’s parent or guardian or an authorized LEA user to the learning profile of a student from kindergarten through grade 12 in an electronic format known as a Student Achievement Backpack.”

Ok… who the hell is the LEA????

(A)   “Authorized LEA user” means a teacher or other person who is: (1) employed by an LEA that provides instruction to a student; and (2) authorized to access data in a Student Achievement Backpack through the {insert state} Student Record Store. (B) “LEA” means a school district, charter school, or the {schooling options in the state specific to the deaf and blind}

This act will: “allow an education provider to (a) research and find student users who are interested in various educational outcomes; (b) promote the education provider’s programs and schools to student users;  and (c) connect with student users within the Student Futures website;  (3) allow a {insert state} business to: (a) research and find student users who are pursuing educational outcomes that are consistent with jobs the {insert state} business is trying to fill now or in the future; and  (b) market jobs and communicate with student users through the Student Futures website as allowed by law..”

Not unlike the “model legislation” of ALEC, back in the 1980’s the FTC Improvement Act mandated that the FTC would no longer have any authority whatsoever to regulate advertising and marketing to children, leaving marketers virtually free to target kids as they saw fit.  And by 1984, the Reagan administration had succeeded in dismantling the last vestiges of government oversight, completely deregulating children’s television.

Now, it’s not passive brainwashing via TV that worries parents. Its interactive privacy piracy directly invading the mental and physical spaces of our children’s lives. According to one section of ALEC’s legislation, “In addition to an enhanced kindergarten program described in Subsection (B), the early intervention program includes a component to address early intervention through the use of an interactive computer software program.”

Television is “so last season”–today, it’s deregulation of computer-driven content including that which our children are forced to engage with via education policies, and that can directly engage in uninterrupted direct contact with children. No parental guidance allowed.

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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