This year has been an interesting one as we celebrated a milestone in our family, my oldest child became COPPA legal. COPPA – the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act was enacted in 1998 and its main purpose is to issue and enforce regulations concerning children’s online privacy. COPPA was designed to protect children under the age of 13. Once a child turns 13, they can sign on to online services without parental permission.

Yes, this is a thing when your mother is a privacy advocate. As exciting as it was for my now 13 year old to be able to get on social media, it was somewhat of a sobering moment as he can now sign up for these platforms on his own. I believe I have taught him enough to be a responsible digital citizen, aware how he disseminates his own data and to whom he decides to relinquish it to. However, I realize that might not be the case in school.

During these past couple of school years he was provided, by his teachers, with a list of resources to complement his education including educational apps that could be easily downloaded to a smartphone, tablet or laptop. None of these resources vetted by any formal process within the school, all of them provided by teachers with the best of intentions but with little understanding of the ramifications of “only” providing their name, birthdate and email address. Not all educational apps are created equally and teachers need to understand how student data is collected from students that use anything outside of the approved eco system within the school. I am not asking that all teachers be well versed in complex privacy law or to spend endless hours reading privacy policy, but there should be a base line understanding of what to look for in an educational app.

Besides the educational value an app provides students, teachers should ask what student data the app is collecting and why. Why do they need registered users and if so, what information does a student need to provide and for what purpose.

Parents can ask these few questions –

What data is collected and why?

Is the student data provided shared with third parties?

How long is the data retained?

Students ought to understand that by signing up for an educational app they are providing information about themselves which they might not be comfortable doing so as they craft their educational story.

Finally, ed-tech companies have an obligation to be transparent with their privacy policies, terms of service and data retention policies. I understand that in the excitement to create a new app, ed-tech companies might not have student privacy in mind, but it should be. iKeepsafe has a great COPPA 101 for ed-tech companies with excellent points on how to communicate to the many stakeholders involved in the process of students utilizing the app in question. Transparency and communication on what data is collected, how it is used, how long it is stored for, and what happens to it once a student stops using the app is important information for students to have. Student buy in is one of the most important factors in whether an app is successful or not. Teachers will be able to recommend useful apps to their students without having to be privacy auditors and all of us parents of teens can focus on trying to keep up with the latest social media teen sensation app and try, to the best of our abilities, to be a little bit cool in the eyes of teenagers – if that is at all possible.