I have a kid in high school–”the 15-year-old” as I fondly refer to him on social media–who plays on a school sports team. Thus, I have become immersed in the connected world of high school sports–who knew! The school year is in full swing and so are all the various meetings–PTA, curriculum nights, and introductory team meetings. These meetings bring up issues that sometimes test your principles. For example, teammates are required to use a third-party app in order to receive updates from coaches, information about practices, and to stay connected with parents and students.
If the kids don’t download and sign up for the app, they will miss important updates, such as who will participate in that week’s meet, bus schedules, and practice times. As I sat through the introductory meeting, the app info appeared on the screen, teenage heads went down to look at their phones, and they downloaded the app and signed up for the reminders. My kid turned to look at me with a “What do I do?” look and I was so proud of him for that brief second of hesitation. But before I could answer, he was downloading the app. His reason: “I don’t want to miss important information because if I don’t have this app, there is no other way to know.”
While I understand the ease of using the app, I struggle with the school not giving the kids a choice and not providing other communication alternatives. There was no option for students to decide what would work best for them. They were told to sign up or they would miss important information. Teammates also have to sign up for a Facebook group in order to receive updates from the team captain. They won’t know where the next pasta party is unless they are on Facebook. Missing crucial information feels like life or death to a 15-year-old.
In this way, we encounter the thorny issue of consent. Can the school argue that the kids were effectively asked to consent before joining? Will the students agree that they gave their consent? Article 4(11) of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) defines consent as,
Consent of the data subject means any freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject’s wishes by which he or she, by a statement or by a clear affirmative action, signifies agreement to the processing of personal data relating to him or her.
I don’t think that I could find a student in that room who would say that they freely gave their information; they had no choice but to download the app or be left out of receiving the team’s announcements.
I don’t think that the school did this with bad intentions, but at a certain point we need to push back and ask the schools to provide options for kids. There was no respect for users’ choices (and parents weren’t given a choice, either), but kids are entitled to choice as much as adults are. For example, what if an app has privacy or security issues or users have an issue with the information they are asked to provide? In this instance, students were asked to provide their phone numbers, names of schools, their names, and grades.
Not providing a choice limits students’ ability to be empowered to make their own decisions about how their data is collected and used.
Schools should be cognizant of the choices they give students to access information and remain connected. Not providing a choice limits students’ ability to be empowered to make their own decisions about how their data is collected and used. It is possible to have useful ed tech that respects users’ choices and helps to create a better high school experience. However, not providing students with choices limits their ability to control their data and does not empower them to make decisions on how they receive and provide information about their teams and themselves.
We can do a better job of providing kids with choices. Schools need to be aware that students may not want to immediately sign up for a service without being able to decide whether that choice makes sense for them. And schools should provide alternative communication options for those who decide not to sign up.
Olga Garcia-Kaplan is a student data privacy advocate and parent of three school-age children. Olga is a member and parent liaison for the Special Education Advisory Council in her children’s school district. She blogs on student privacy from a parent perspective advocating for the responsible use of student data. She previously served as member of the School Leadership Team representing families of children with special needs and as a member of the Testing Task Force, a group of parents and teachers promoting community-wide dialogue on the impacts of Federal, State and NYC Department of Ed policies in the daily life of students and teachers. Olga has over 18 years of experience in the Financial Services Industry managing compliance and regulatory requirements working on diverse projects from IPO launches, M&A projects, Mutual Funds and Proxy related transactions.