what is this What high school teachers see when they open GoGuardian, a popular software application for monitoring student activity: the interface is familiar, like the gallery view of a large Zoom call. But instead of seeing teenage faces in every frame, teachers see thumbnails showing each student’s laptop screen. They watched students’ cursors skim the lines of a sonnet, or the word “chlorofluorocarbons” came up, which they painstakingly typed into the search bar. If students are attracted to distractions (online games, stunt videos), teachers can also see this and can remind students to continue with tasks via a private message from GoGuardian. If the student strays too far from the assignment, the teacher can remotely control the device and tap the tabs themselves.
Student monitoring software has come under scrutiny during the Covid-19 pandemic. As students in the U.S. are forced to continue school virtually, many are taking home school-issued devices. Software embedded in these machines could allow teachers to view and control students’ screens, use artificial intelligence to scan text in student emails and cloud-based documents, and, in severe cases, send educators messages of potential threats of violence or mental health hazards. Alerts and local law enforcement after school.
Now that most American students can finally go back to school in person, the surveillance software that has proliferated during the pandemic will stay on their school-issued devices and continue to monitor them. According to a report released today by the Center for Democracy and Technology, 89 percent of teachers say their schools will continue to use student monitoring software, an increase of 5 percentage points from last year.At the same time, overthrow Roe v Wade In states that have made abortion care illegal, new concerns have arisen about digital surveillance. Proposals targeting LGBTQ youth, such as the Texas governor’s call to investigate families of children seeking gender-affirming care, have raised additional concerns that data collected through school-issued devices could be weaponized in September.
The CDT report also revealed how surveillance software is closing the gap between classrooms and prison systems. Forty-four percent of teachers reported that law enforcement contacted at least one student at their school because of behavior flagged by surveillance software. Thirty-seven percent of teachers said their school uses activity monitoring outside of normal business hours, saying such alerts are for “third parties concerned with public safety” (eg, local police departments, immigration enforcement). “Schools have institutionalized and regularized access to student information by law enforcement,” said Elizabeth Laird, CDT’s director of civic technology equity.
U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey recently raised concerns about the software facilitating links with law enforcement, suggesting the product could also be used to criminalize students seeking reproductive health resources on school-issued devices. Senators have sought responses from four major surveillance companies: GoGuardian, Gaggle, Securly and Bark for Schools, which together cover thousands of school districts and millions of American students.
Widespread concerns about teen mental health and school violence set a grim backdrop for back-to-school season. Following a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uwald, Texas, Congress passed a law allocating $300 million for schools to strengthen safety infrastructure. Surveillance companies have spoken about educators’ fears, often touting their products’ ability to zero in on potential student attackers. Securly’s website provides educators with “AI-driven insights into student activity for email, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive files.” It invites them to “approach student safety from all angles, across platforms, and to identify students who may be at risk of harming themselves or others.”
See you after class
Before roe The decision has drawn more attention to the risks of digital surveillance, and lawmakers and privacy advocates have turned their attention to student surveillance software. In March 2022, an investigation led by Senators Warren and Markey found that the four aforementioned companies selling digital student monitoring services to K-12 schools raised “significant privacy and fairness concerns.” The survey noted that low-income students (who tend to be Black and Hispanic) are more reliant on school devices and are more monitored than wealthy students; it also found that schools and companies are generally not required to disclose their monitoring to students and parents Purpose and Scope. In some cases, school districts may choose to have companies send alerts directly to law enforcement rather than school contacts.
Students are often unaware that their AI lobby monitors are imperfect and can be abused. A survey by The 74 million found that Gaggle sends warning emails to students about innocuous content, such as profanity in fiction submitted to school literary magazines. A high school newspaper reported that the district used surveillance software to reveal students’ sexual orientation to their parents. (Today’s CDT report shows that 13 percent of students know of someone who has been kicked out for using student monitoring software.) The editorial board of a Texas student newspaper believes that their school’s use of the software may deter students from seeking mental health support.
Equally disturbing are claims that surveillance software disrupts students’ lives outside of school. One vice principal I interviewed for this story said his school district receives “suspicious content” email alerts from Gaggle about sexually explicit photos and profanity in student text messages. But the students weren’t texting on their school-issued Chromebooks. When administrators investigated, they learned that when teens are at home, they charge their phones by connecting them to laptops via a USB cable. The teens would then continue to have what they believed to be private conversations over text, in some cases exchanging nude photos with significant other—all of which the Gaggle software running on the Chromebook could detect. Schools are now advising students not to plug their personal devices into school-issued laptops.
This ubiquitous surveillance has been rattling privacy advocates, but the criminalization of reproductive health care in some states has exacerbated those problems. It’s not hard to imagine a student living in a state where termination of pregnancy is illegal using a search engine to find out-of-state abortion clinics, or chatting online with friends about an unwanted pregnancy. From there, teachers and administrators can notify students’ parents or local law enforcement on their own.