back to article American schools' phone apps send children's info to ad networks, analytics firms

The majority of Android and iOS apps created for US public and private schools send student data to assorted third parties, researchers have found, calling into question privacy commitments from Apple and Google as app store stewards. The Me2B Alliance, a non-profit technology policy group, examined a random sample of 73 …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Really ?

    "The majority of Android and iOS apps created for US public and private schools send student data to assorted third parties "

    Well, thank goodness for GDPR. Maybe, someday, the world's Most Powerful Country will join civilization and the respect of privacy.

    Maybe.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Really ?

      Are you talking about this country?

      According to the U.S. Department of Education, 54% of U.S. adults 16-74 years old - about 130 million people - lack proficiency in literacy, reading below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level.

      Keep dreaming.

      1. RobThBay

        Re: Really ?

        Hmmm.... I wonder how many of that 130 million voted for Trump?

        1. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: Really ?

          74 million to be precise. Or almost half.

          Scary, innit?

          1. Frank Bitterlich

            Re: Really ?

            "48% of people ar bad at math. That's almost one third!"

      2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Re: Really ?

        I fail to see any connection between the reading ability of a country's citizens and whether their government sucks up to the rich, powerful and greedy.

        In fact, the opposite should be true: the government of any country with a sub-literate majority of citizens has two immediate and obvious duties: first, to provide an education system that is capable of, and in fact does, turn out literate, numerate citizens capable of critical thought at a price that everybody can afford and, secondly, to prevent their citizens from being ripped off by unscrupulous bastards masquerading as honest businessmen.

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          Re: Really ?

          Hey, Government. I'm making a mint selling snake oil and after-life luxury homes. I'll financially support your re-election if you keep the population too illiterate to read about me buying another private jet full of hookers and blow.

          1. EricB123

            Re: Really ?

            Hear, hear...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Really ?

          Should.

          Since the dawn of time the scope of the government (be it kings, emperors, tyrants, democracies, whatever) was to treat the population as mushrooms.

          You'd have to be brainless not to figure that a healthy, literate (and armed) population will not tolerate much abuse.

          1. Wellyboot Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: Really ?

            Healthy, Literate (and armed).

            One accomplished, two to go...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Really ?

              Licensed or unlicensed firearm?

              1. Chris G Silver badge

                Re: Really ?

                "Licensed or unlicensed firearm?"

                Yes!

              2. John 104

                Re: Really ?

                With the exception of a few states, there is no such thing as a license for a firearm. Concealed carry is a different story. Firearm ownership in the US is a right, not a privilege, therefor, no license requirement should exist.

                1. Woodnag Silver badge

                  With the exception of...

                  So there is "such a thing as a license for a firearm", then. You're welcome.

                  Try exercising your 2nd amendment right in NY city, for example, which isn't a small village.

                  https://professional-troublemaker.com/category/gun-rights/

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @AC - Re: Really ?

            Some of the religions are doing that too.

          3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Really ?

            You'd have to be brainless not to figure that a healthy, literate (and armed) population will not tolerate much abuse.

            Or have a competent understanding of psychology or history.

            Healthy, literate people not only tolerate abuse, they actively participate in it. Being healthy and literate is better than the alternative, but it is by no means a magical prescription for freedom – and the capability (which is dubious however many personal weapons might be spread among the populace) to subvert the government's monopoly on violence doesn't change that, because the participation in abuse is almost entirely an effect of ideology, not repression.

      3. Wade Burchette Silver badge

        Re: Really ?

        Funny you mentioned that because the US spends more per child than almost every other country in the world. It seems like we are getting a terrible return-on-investment.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Really ?

          Spend it on teaching and education the children and not on extra, non-related items and maybe you'll see some results. Hint: metal detectors, surveillance camera and software, psicho-the-rapists, social workers, everything on-line classes and such. Get back to basics!

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Really ?

        From a Forbes article including the quote "":

        "Adults who scored below Level 3 for literacy on the PIAAC were defined as at least partially illiterate. Adults below or at Level 1 may struggle to understand texts beyond filling out basic forms, and they find it difficult to make inferences from written material. Adults at Level 2 can read well enough to evaluate product reviews and perform other tasks requiring comparisons and simple inferences, but they’re unlikely to correctly evaluate the reliability of texts or draw sophisticated inferences. Adults at Level 3 and above were considered fully literate. They’re able to evaluate sources, as well as infer sophisticated meaning and complex ideas from written sources."

        That level 2 - "well enough to evaluate product reviews and perform other tasks requiring comparisons and simple inferences, but they’re unlikely to correctly evaluate the reliability of texts or draw sophisticated inferences" - seems to me to a very broad definition of partially illiterate. Maybe that is unavoidable, because "literacy" is not a binary but a continuum.

        I recall the back in the day of print media, Time magazine, one of the US' more popular magazines, was very strict about writing all articles with a vocabulary that could be understood by a sixth grader - in the context of the study in question, a borderline illiterate.

        However, I do think that there has been some dumbing down - Time is out and Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, and Tik Tok are in.

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Really ?

      Rather than publishing where the data is going to, it would be more certain and protective of minor's data to make it illegal to slurp any data from these apps.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Really ?

      will join civilization and the respect of privacy.

      Agreed. You'd think the ACLU would have more to say about this...

      Also worthy of note, it may be that SOME (or maybe even ALL) of this tracking data is related to logins. How many phone-things will allow you to log in via Fa[e]cebook or Google? And at that point, the various SDKs do the tracking on behalf of the SDK maker [in this case, FB and Google]. Anyone who has put this particular kind of login feature into a phone application (or maintained code where it was in use) should understand.

      You could probably say the same thing if a "Microsoft Login" were in use for the same purpose. These cloudy login services could EASILY track EVERYTHING you do.

      Google uses Firebase for this. It's kinda integrated with the "app" deployment as well, last I checked anyway [it may have changed since the last time I had to use it]. And I would expect school-related software to have some kind of login. And a kid isn't going to want to type a password every time, so would most likely accept a one-button login feature.

      And so we "circle back" to the core of the problem - those login SDKs that are tied in with the ad networks and tracking and everything else.

      Just wanted to point all of that out.

  2. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Think of the children ('s spending power)

    But but but... they have money to spend so we must be allowed to advertise to them.

    A couple of suggestions: 1) fund public schools sufficiently so that they can commission apps that don't track. 2) Don't use an app in the first place.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Think of the children ('s spending power)

      If you funded schools sufficiently, then you would not be needing any apps at all.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Think of the children ('s spending power)

        It's hard to see how so many of us managed to get through school and probably university without any apps at all... there's a lot to be said for being there in the classroom with a pencil and paper.

        1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

          Re: Think of the children ('s spending power)

          I know, and meeting-up in town at a place and time. Incredible isn't it?

        2. brett_x
          Facepalm

          Re: Think of the children ('s spending power)

          You needed pencil and paper? Cavemen got by without that technology.

          /s

        3. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: Think of the children ('s spending power)

          The year my mocks came up was the first year a calculator was permitted in the maths exam.

          Other than that, no phones, no copiers etc only a book of maths tables and a slide rule.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Think of the children ('s spending power)

            The worst maths teacher I ever had (3rd form) assigned multiplication and division problems to be solved with a book of log tables EVERY lesson. That was it - once he showed the method there no more sound from him or the students, just lookups.

    2. DevOpsTimothyC Bronze badge

      Re: Think of the children ('s spending power)

      "Fund public schools sufficiently so that they can commission apps that don't track"

      How about just educating the ones commissioning the apps, or making them legally (financially) responsible?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Square's OK HTTP?

    I missed the memo. What is bad about Square's OK HTTP?

    I was not aware it did any tracking, and most things these days need to talk to a web server via some asynchronous methods. (Loading data, images etc so that an app does not need to be rebuilt and republished for every change)

  4. Aladdin Sane Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Well this is violently American.

  5. ThatOne Silver badge
    Devil

    A dollar is a dollar

    > "taxpayers most likely paid to fund apps that are sending student data to online advertising platforms"

    Morals and respect are for the weak. It's well known that it's your God-given right to make profit by any means your power and influence make possible, so what is the livestock complaining about? They're just another resource to be mined, if God wanted them to be respected he would had made them rich and powerful.

    /s

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ThatOne - Re: A dollar is a dollar

      Exactly! Suckers are a valuable, renewable economic resource. It's readily available at almost no cost and it would be foolish not to be exploited or monetized as they call it in web 2.0 newspeak.

  6. Rich 2 Silver badge

    What is F***ING wrong with people???

    The whole software industry has turned into a complete sewer. It seems that whatever the application, actually doing what the app says on the tin is very much a secondary job next to pilfering the user’s data and selling it to the highest bidder.

    Oh for the days when a software application did …well …the thing you bought it for!! And that’s all!!!!

    And the fact that absolutely EVERYONE seems to be doing the same thing is a crippling indictment in the morals of the industry as a whole.

    PLEASE STOP FUCKING SPYING ON EVERYONE!!!!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Rich 2 - Re: What is F***ING wrong with people???

      Yeah but look at the insane amount of money this industry makes. Money go a long way in soothing any moral or ethic discomfort. Don't take my word for it, give it a try!

    2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: What is F***ING wrong with people???

      @Rich 2 - Commendable use of all caps and multiple punctuation.

  7. mevets Bronze badge

    Not just the USA

    I know Canada hardly seems like much of a distinction, but we do fund our education reasonably, or comparatively generously, and do take privacy seriously. The same malware was deployed in most of Ontario school boards, through a combination of ignorance, incompetence, poor accountability, and overall weakness.

    If you lie down with dogs, you get fleas.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Not just the USA

      Everybody's got fleas, schools all over the world seem to be all drinking the Chromebook koolaid.

  8. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

    6th grade good enough...

    Even pre-schoolers know how to click [Agree], [OK], and they can't even read what the buttons say.

    I read some instructions on how to "code" a sample app. (1) Download framework. (2) Pull down massive code from github. (3) Sign up for free account. (4) Spin up AWS instance. (5) Click Run.

    I guess that method works, in the sense the massive code does what you asked it to do. My spidey-sense tells me it also does some things you didn't ask it to do. But hey, the instructions were simple enough (10 minute read) that a 6th grader could understand them. So I think the basic problem isn't the apps are being targeted at 6th graders. The problem is the apps are being *written* by 6th graders, or equivalent.

    "Somebody" should know better. Too many of the ones with the requisite education to know better have gone over to the dark side.

  9. CloudBasedPlunger

    California Student Privacy Alliance.

    In California we have CSPA, part of CITE. They have several tools most importantly privacy contracts and a registry of compliant/non compliant companies. However, very few schools have complete legal compliance with student privacy as part of their Tech Plan. So more or less CSPA tools are used when convenient and not used when inconvenient. I had a chat with a very big school district CIO and they were pretty flippant about trusting a volunteer, community based project and would rather just leave it up to the schools to figure out what they are going to do.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021