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New Zealand edtech companies pledge not to spy on Kiwi schoolchildren

Schools without much money were forced to rely on free software from big offshore vendors with questionable data collection practices, the NZ Tech Alliance said. Photo / 123rf

By RNZ

New Zealand-owned educational technology companies pledge not to spy on school children.

Edtech surveillance by multinational tech companies to harvest students’ personal data is causing controversy, crackdowns and lawsuits in the US and Europe.

The NZ Tech Alliance said it was unclear if these practices were happening in New Zealand.

However, schools without much money were forced to rely on free software from large offshore vendors with questionable data collection practices, the alliance said.

Critics say the quid pro quo is that vendors get to harvest student data, resell it to data brokers, for advertising, but also use AI to assess and guide student learning in opaque ways .

“If the product is free, then you are the product,” said the alliance’s Dave Moskovitz, board member of the EdTechNZ subgroup.

Local products and services tend not to be free, he said.

The government’s stance still favored big global tech, but local companies could use the inbound engagement to stand out, Moskovitz said.

“What this allows local software vendors to do is say, ‘We care about privacy, and those are the ways we care about privacy, and that’s how we’re going to handle this. important taonga of your students”.

“Try to get something like that on one of the overseas platforms – you won’t.”

The pledge, which has been released in draft form, will be a pledge not to share student data with third parties or use it to advertise to students.

The Department of Education’s two big edtech contracts are with Microsoft and Google.

Both companies claim to protect student data, but have faced crackdowns and lawsuits overseas.

Moskovitz said the ministry was very slowly showing signs of beginning to listen to local edtech.

“The department will pretend…that they don’t want to favor anyone, but in fact…they favor the big platforms because they have these big block deals with them.”

It would be an improvement when Microsoft and AWS establish data centers in New Zealand, so student data would not be stored overseas, but this form of “data residency” was no substitute for true “sovereignty.” data” where full control was retained here, he said.

EdTechNZ published a 92-page report last year, but it barely mentioned privacy or data sharing.

The Privacy Foundation said any commitment should be developed in consultation with a broader group including non-commercial stakeholders, such as the privacy commissioner and non-governmental organizations.

He said the draft pledge was similar to a U.S. pledge published by the Future of Privacy Forum with the software industry six years ago and updated in 2020.

That country’s Department of Education, in defense of its contracts, cited the fact that Microsoft and Google both signed the U.S. Student Privacy Pledge, which the department called “a voluntary but legally binding industry commitment to protect student privacy regarding the collection, maintenance and use of student personal information”.

Both tech giants also hold ISO certifications for privacy and “rely on these independently audited certifications,” the ministry said.

The U.S. initiators of the pledge said it was a “clear industry commitment” to protect student information.

An education watchdog group, The 74, called it a “self-regulatory effort”, while the Electronic Frontier Foundation said it provided “false assurance due to numerous shortcomings”.

Last month, the Illuminate Education signer was kicked out of the pledge and referred to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, after its servers were hacked, exposing the personal information of more than a million students — not only their names, but also in some cases their migration status. , attitudes in the classroom and problems with discipline.

When Illuminate signed up in 2016, he said “by signing this pledge, we’re committing to continue doing what we’ve been doing since the beginning – promoting the safeguarding and use of student data to encourage student success.” students and educators!”

The Privacy Foundation in New Zealand said the question was whether that country would follow the United States and encounter the same problems after several years “or maybe we could improve it from the start”.