Privacy & Security Briefly Stated

Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

October 06, 2019 5 min read
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Here’s a quick breakdown of high-profile news stories you may have missed during the week.

Another Year Past, and Still in Search of Online Privacy

After another whole year, it looks like the ed-tech industry has taken only baby steps to keep children safe from having their sensitive information floating around the web.

Companies have upped their game on some measures of data-privacy, security, and online-safety during the past year, but the vast majority still don’t meet a baseline set of policies meant to protect students, says an analysis by the nonprofit advocacy group Common Sense Media. It’s based on an evaluation of 150 privacy and safety policies used for popular ed-tech-company applications and services.

On the whole, the share of education applications that met minimum criteria established by the organization doubled from 10 percent to 20 percent from 2018—a median score across all evaluated products. That means 80 percent still don’t meet the threshold.

Common Sense judged the companies on such factors as whether their data-privacy policies are transparent and whether they allow children’s personal and nonpersonal information to be used for third-party marketing.

The improvements in ed-tech vendors’ practices have almost certainly been driven by their efforts to comply with the sweeping, 2-year-old European data-privacy regulation, GDPR, as well as with California’s Consumer Privacy Act, among other recent data-privacy overhauls, said Girard Kelly, the counsel and director of privacy review at Common Sense.

“What this means is that laws matter. Advocacy matters,” Kelly said. Ed-tech businesses increasingly believe it makes financial and legal sense to set a strong “baseline on privacy protections for all of their users,” he said, rather than trying to go about it piecemeal.

But companies continue to fall short, in Common Sense Media’s judgment. For instance, the proportion of companies that say they create advertising profiles of their users jumped from 10 percent to 23 percent in 2019.

More companies have stopped collecting information that is used for behavioral advertising. Yet many are still creating profiles of students—at least based on their clicks, search terms, and other indications of how they’re consuming information, Kelly said.

Teen Dating Violence Perplexes Principals

Here’s an issue where principals not only passed the buck, but they also failed the test: What do you do if romantic relationships between students cross the line from going sour to turning abusive?

That thorny subject is explored in a new survey of school leaders on the troubling topic of teen dating violence.

One of the most striking findings is that even though more than half of principals reported dealing with an incident of teen dating violence in the recent past, many aren’t clear about their role.

Most principals—68 percent—say they have never received formal training on how to respond to dating violence among teens, and three-quarters say their school did not have a protocol for handling it.

Lack of know-how comes through loud and clear in the survey. On a short questionnaire gauging principals’ knowledge of teen dating violence, most were unable to answer four of nine questions correctly. Questions, for example, asked how common dating violence is and what long-term effects victims of such violence suffer.

So how do principals handle dating violence? The vast majority—96 percent—referred victims to school counselors.

That poses a problem, too. One of the study’s researchers, Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of health science at Ball State University in Indiana, found in an earlier study that school counselors and nurses are struggling mightily to help victims because, they say, of a lack of support from school administrators.

Head Start Centers Fail Undercover Tests in GAO-Plotted Sting

Add play-acting to the resumes of Government Accountability Office staff.

To investigate the practices of local Head Start operators, GAO workers posed as fictitious families and tried to enroll children in 15 preschool centers in metropolitan areas around the country. “GAO provided incomplete or potentially disqualifying information during the enrollment process, such as pay stubs that exceeded income requirements,” the agency says in a report out last week.

It concludes that federal officials and local program operators have not done enough to prevent fraud in programs.

The watchdog agency’s findings prompted Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., to call for a hearing on fraud risk in the federally funded program that supports preschool for low-income children.

The Head Start program, which receives approximately $10 billion annually, serves about 1 million children through grants to some 1,600 Head Start centers nationwide.

The investigators found:

• Eight of 15 centers incorrectly determined the applications met eligibility requirements.

• At three centers, staff encouraged the “fictitious families” to attend without following all requirements to verify eligibility.

• At three others, investigators found their “applications had been doctored to exclude income information GAO provided, which would have shown the fictitious family to be over-income.”

• In the remaining two cases, center staff “dismissed eligibility documentation GAO’s fictitious family offered during the enrollment interview.”

In Popularity Contest, Education Department Beats Out ICE Alone

Let’s hear it for the U.S. Department of Education. It’s not at rock bottom of a public opinion poll of federal agencies. The agency with the chilling acronym of ICE—not to mention images over the past year of the controversial treatment of children in its custody—beat out the Education Department for that honor this time around.

Still, the department responsible for helping children get the best education possible ranks below the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been caught up for years in its controversial treatment of military veterans under its care.

And to be fair, the public’s view of Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not included in Pew’s 2018 survey.

Despite the Education Department’s ranking this year, the numbers released last week represent a decline in its favorability ratings from last year’s Pew Research Center poll. In 2018, 53 percent viewed the department favorably, compared with 42 percent who had an unfavorable view. Still, that split (and this year’s, too—48 percent for each view) was an improvement from where the agency stood toward the end of the Obama administration.

There’s less of a partisan divide over the Education Department in this year’s Pew data, too. Still, that’s the result of eroding support among Democrats in the last few years, while Republicans’ views of the department have held pretty steady.

By the way, the U.S. Postal Service holds the top spot.

Briefly Stated Contributors: Evie Blad, Sean Cavanagh, Arianna Prothero, and Andrew Ujifusa. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the October 09, 2019 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated


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