Parents impart a lot of trust in their children’s schools, and that trust intuitively extends to school websites.

But a recent New York Times article suggests such trust may be misplaced, especially when it comes to the protection of personal information.

The story checked more than 150 school websites and found scripts that would track the places visited by students, teachers and parents online after they accessed the school site.

School administrators were largely unaware of the problem. One Florida school district had them removed, but when their sites were checked again a few months later, 22 more trackers were in place.

We’ve become resigned to such practices on retailer websites. We understand that visiting the Target or Kohl’s website to order a product will result in seeing ads for those companies in our Facebook feed. We may not be happy about this, but we also know that companies are collecting information about our age, gender, ethnicity and online interests, and selling it to brokers who in turn sell it to advertisers.

But we hold public sector entities such as schools to a higher standard. If they want to use trackers to count page visits or identify broken links, that’s fine. But this is not the place to be bartering our kids’ viewing habits and purchase histories with behavioral targeting, in an effort to sell them more stuff. The fact that this happens without the school’s knowledge or consent does not diminish the problem.

The Times article found that student lists are now available for purchase on the basis of ethnicity, affluence, religion, lifestyle, and even a predicted need for family planning services, according to a study released in June by Fordham University’s Center on Law and Information Policy.

Some school districts have passed student privacy laws, but they don’t have the funding to enforce them, or the ability to train personnel on how to monitor data sharing practices from such online giants as Google, Facebook and YouTube.

 

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We work only with nonprofit and public sector websites, providing monitoring and security services to protect against a wide range of online threats.

If you are concerned about trackers on your school district site, contact us to discuss your options

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