Most schools collect student data for administrative reasons, or through learning apps and school-issued devices. Parents can limit the amount of personal information that’s collected and stored about their child by asking the school not to disclose their child’s directory information to third parties, and by making available privacy choices in the apps and devices used at school.
For many parents, the back-to-school season is a good time to pause and consider online privacy.
Kids and teens are spending more time online than ever before, generating vast amounts of data.
In many places, even the youngest students are growing their digital footprints during school hours. Classroom management apps are widely used to track everything from academic performance to behavior and sometimes even bathroom breaks.
While working at their desks or logging on to do homework, students’ activity may continue to be monitored. Some learning apps track engagement and performance, and some school-issued devices may have default settings that allow third parties to mine student data.
Once all that information is collected, it’s not always clear who has access to it, and what happens to it when the school year ends.
All of this adds up to big privacy concerns. Kids’ data is highly valuable to marketing firms because it can be used to create consumer profiles and highly targeted ads. It’s also attractive to identity thieves, as children typically have good credit that can be exploited for years.
If you’re a parent, you can take steps to safeguard your child’s personal information, both in school and at home. Scan our privacy checklist to make sure your child is as protected as possible heading into the new school year.
Communicate your privacy preferences to the school
Most school districts offer privacy choices at the beginning of the year.
Parents should know that under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), public schools can disclose “directory” information — which can include name, address, date of birth, attendance, and honors or awards — to third parties without parental consent.
If you would rather keep these details private, you have the right to opt out by telling your school not to disclose directory information about your child. If you don’t receive a release form about a school directory at the beginning of the year, call your school administrator to ask about removing your child from the list.
In addition, before signing off on social media consent forms and photo releases, consider the privacy implications.
Ask for a list of apps your child will use at school
Teachers have long used educational apps and websites to support the learning process. During the pandemic, many schools upped the use of digital teaching tools and introduced educational technology to younger audiences.
Under the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA), apps and websites must gain parental consent before collecting information from kids younger than 13. But schools can grant COPPA consent on behalf of parents if a tool is used solely for educational purposes.
If you’d like to stay informed about the programs your child is interacting with at school, ask the teacher for a list of the apps and websites that will be used in the classroom. Then scan the privacy policies of each app to understand your available privacy choices. Some learning apps track engagement and performance, but they shouldn’t share information with third parties, such as advertisers.
If you’re concerned about the type of information that’s being collected by an app, talk with your school administrator about how the software was vetted, and ask if there’s a way to opt out of data sharing for your child.
Configure school-issued devices
These days, even some kindergarteners get school-issued tablets or laptops. If your child has received a device from school, take a look to see if you can configure any privacy settings, such as turning off location tracking and disabling browser tracking. It’s also good practice to regularly clear the cookies and cache. While cookies may be becoming less relevant, they can still be used to enable tracking, which erodes privacy. If your kids’ school device has a camera, consider putting a piece of masking tape over the lense when it's not in use. Many privacy experts recommend taking this step to add an extra layer of privacy.
Talk to your kids about online privacy
It’s never too soon to start teaching kids about online privacy. The sooner your child learns the basics, the sooner she can start advocating for herself and making smart choices online.
Spend time talking as a family about the foundations of internet safety. Kids should understand from an early age that it’s not a good idea to talk to strangers online, and that social media posts can be shared beyond their pre-approved list of online “friends”.
Help older kids and teens turn on two-factor authentication for important accounts, and consider setting up a password manager.
Another good practice: teach kids to use separate email accounts for school and personal use. That way, their private messages won’t be accessible by school administrators.
It’s perfectly reasonable to ask your school about how student data is collected and stored.
Here are some questions you may want to consider asking school leadership:
Who has access to student data?
How is it stored, and for how long?
Is it encrypted?
What are the privacy choices available for my child?
We’re here to help
When personal data is collected and stored, there’s always a risk it could be exposed in a data breach or hack.
If you’re a member and you have one of our family plans, you can add your child to your account in our online portal.
To do this, tap the icon in the upper right-hand corner, then select “Manage Family Members.” Next, click “Add new member” and enter your child’s information to complete their profile.
Once you’ve created your child’s profile, you can enable additional protections, such as credit monitoring, social media monitoring, and dark web monitoring. From there, we’ll alert you if we see signs of data exposure, fraud, or reputational damage.
If identity theft does occur, our Restoration Specialists will work to ensure there’s no lasting damage to your child’s credit or identity.
There’s a lot that’s difficult about raising kids in the digital age. But with our service, you can rest easy knowing your child’s identity is in good hands.