CONTRIBUTORS

To protect their kids, Maine parents need to protect their kids’ data

Google's logo in Dublin, Ireland.
Carlos Luna via Flickr
Google's logo in Dublin, Ireland.
Posted March 12, 2014, at 8:55 a.m.

I’ve often heard (and used) the expression, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

This is particularly true of parenting. The mitigating factors affecting our worries, fears, hopes, aspirations and dreams for our children have changed significantly over the centuries, but the basic tenets remain the same. We want our kids to be happy, healthy, safe and well adjusted. We value education as a means to reach their full potential, and our parental instinct to protect them kicks in automatically when we feel they are threatened.

Sometimes the dangers are obvious. We’re constantly on the lookout to prevent the preventable. We insist on bicycle helmets, water safety rules, seat belts, a healthy diet and so forth. We teach our children strategies for dealing with bullying, conflict resolution and strangers who may approach them in a public place. Sometimes, however, the perils are more subtly intrusive and the negative results more difficult to pinpoint.

As a mom, I am angry and disappointed to hear that my child’s personal information is being used for the purpose of targeted advertising. Worse, it is a common practice here in Maine, and most parents and, regrettably even school districts, are unaware.

Virtually every school in Maine uses cloud computing technology in some way. Cloud computing basically describes computer networks and data centers outside of school in which student data is stored to clear space on servers located in the school system. These student data include, but are not limited to, emails, documents, postal addresses, telephone numbers, age, disabilities, grades, health, locations, personal opinions, race and religion.

Google provides free web application suites for schools in Maine through its Google Apps for Education. The information gathered in these web suites is stored in the Google cloud. The benefit to Google is simple: It sells online office suites to businesses and government agencies for annual fees. By offering similar features to schools, students become familiar and comfortable with these online tools. Upon graduating and entering the workforce, they create a demand for Google’s product. This is a legitimate business model.

However, in a recent class-action lawsuit in California, Google’s own lawyers admitted that Google data mines student information for ad-targeting purposes outside of school. Targeted ads are much more valuable than untargeted ads. Advertisers will pay more for the opportunity to place their ads before consumers who, according to the data provided through mining, are more likely to buy their product. Furthermore, it appears that Google continues to mine the data, even when the ad serving is turned off at the school’s request.

Simply put, students may not see the targeted ads while in school, but they could still be bombarded with them when they use their Gmail accounts outside of school.

As a parent, I’m outraged at this intrusive profiling of my children’s information.

Recently, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, introduced bipartisan legislation to prohibit Google and similar vendors from data mining student information for advertising and other commercial use. The bill, LD 1780, is designed to help Maine keep up with fast-changing trends in technology. I urge all Maine parents to support these efforts.

Erin Mancini is a mom with three children in the Falmouth School System.

 

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