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You Might Be Surprised at the Kind of Data Your Kid’s School Is Collecting

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Data collection – mostly not consciously authorized – has been on everyone’s mind in the past couple of years, ever since Facebook got bad press for selling information on users during the 2016 election. If anything, it made most people aware that everywhere you go online, every time you agree to anything before using it, there’s a good chance they’re collecting data about you that they will then sell to the highest bidder.

People have started to become conspiracy theorists about online games to DNA test kits, and rightfully so – but you might not have stopped to think about what your child’s school is collecting every time they log onto a computer in class?

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Some parents have found out the hard way what’s being collected – and how difficult it might be to get that data wiped before it causes real harm.

Because of incidents like school shootings, schools are collecting data about more than grades – they’re monitoring search histories, social media behavior, and the like in order to head off potential problems. The systems aren’t taking mistakes into account, though, and there are teenagers across the country who have already paid a steep price.

The Guardian has reported on up to 10 students, who had been accepted to Harvard, having those acceptances rescinded after racist and obscene jokes in a private Facebook chat came to light. More recentlyKyle Kashuv, a conservative activist from Parkland, Florida, also had his Harvard admission rescinded after racists remarks came to light. He was 16 when he made them.

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The question for many is becoming not only about what is being collected and shared but whether kids with underdeveloped brains should be held accountable for dumb remarks long into their futures.

A group of parents in Montgomery County, which is in a suburb of Washington D.C., fought for and won an annual “data deletion week,” meant to clear the digital slates from not only the district, but also from the tech companies and online applications it uses.

The idea was pushed by attorney and parent Bradley Shear, whose second-grade son had gotten into trouble for Googling the song “F*ck You” by CeeLo Green on the school laptop. Shear maintained that the search was auto-populated and an accident, but even if it wasn’t, he’s only eight – how long should that follow him around?

Shear wanted the data deleted by GoGuardian, the company contracted by the district to monitor students’ searches and website visits.

The parents in that district won, and though it may not be as easy for those groups of parents that don’t include a lawyer and experts in security, privacy, and politics, at least we have precedence now to make regular data deletion a thing around the country.

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He started meeting with district officials, discussing his and other parents’ concerns, including at least one other committee member who’d had a similar experience with her son – he’d typed in “save the land” while doing a book report on conservation and “up came the Ku Klux Klan …’Save the land, join the Klan.'”

When she’d gone to the teacher and suggested wiping the search from her son’s browser history, the teacher had told her that wasn’t possible.

Data Deletion Week means that not only have these troubling mistakes been deleted from inside and outside school systems, but official letters to certify that the data had been fully deleted, not simply kept and “de-identified” have been sent.

In this day and age, the knowledge that your kid’s mistakes as a teenager aren’t going to ruin the rest of their lives seems like a common sense thing we’d all want to make sure gets done.

But maybe also make sure they know that racism isn’t funny. Just a thought.