How to Protect Yourself If Your School Uses Surveillance Tech

Pfefferkorn also encourages asking your school to perform an audit of its monitoring software, which could reveal what kind of content the algorithm is tracking and how. An audit might reveal whether the software is truly effective or is picking up on false alarms. Encourage your school to document and inform parents of exactly what they track, how they store, and when they delete student data. Ask if you can have your child’s data deleted, or at least see what has been collected.

Act Like You’re Being Watched, Even After School

Whether you’re using your phone on your school’s Wi-Fi, or you’re using a school laptop at home, assume that everything you do is being scanned and logged by monitoring software. Did you plug in your personal phone to your school laptop? The photos on your phone might be scanned too.  Nude photos sent from students’ personal phones, if plugged into school devices to charge, have triggered alerts to school administrators.

“You should assume that anything touching your school-issued device is going to be monitored in some way,” says Jason Kelley, associate director of digital strategy at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. Monitoring doesn’t stop after school or off-campus either.

If you’re a student, practice the basics of digital privacy. Don’t use your school laptop or Wi-Fi to search for anything sensitive, such as medical information. Remember that any kind of data or content on a school communications platform can be scanned and flagged: your school email address, the documents you type into your school Google Drive, your online searches, the images you download, the videos you watch. Even content that is completely safe might be flagged by the algorithm: For example, the software Gaggle can flag keywords related to LGBTQ identity such as ”gay” and “queer” as instances of bullying.

Even if you trust a handful of teachers or counselors, remember that your activity could be seen by other adults in the school, or even law enforcement. Don’t do anything on your device that you wouldn’t want them to see as well.

Others might advise students to “just use your personal device, on your family’s personal network.” It’s important to note that this kind of guidance isn’t accessible to all students. For low-income students, who might rely more on school technology, it may be more difficult to sidestep a school’s surveillance structures.

Mind Your Social Media

Schools might also use AI tools to track social media posts. This is particularly relevant for college students. While colleges generally don’t use content monitoring software, it’s likely they’ll monitor students’ social media for potential risk of violence or protest.

Just as you would assume that anything you type on your school-issued device can be seen and scanned by an algorithm, assume that your public social profiles can be, too. Even private accounts aren’t completely safe, says Kelley. (Yes, even your super-locked-down Finsta.) If you comment on a public account, for example, that might be scanned and subjected to social-media-monitoring algorithms as well.

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