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ERIC Number: ED574730
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2016-May
Pages: 58
Abstractor: ERIC
Learning to be Watched: Surveillance Culture at School--The Eighteenth Annual Report on Schoolhouse Commercializing Trends, 2014-2015
Boninger, Faith; Molnar, Alex
Commercialism in Education Research Unit
Digital technologies used by marketers continue to evolve. Sophisticated and personalized, they help ensure that today's children and adolescents are constantly connected and available to advertisers wherever they may roam. Moreover, because digital technologies enable extensive personalization, they amplify opportunities for marketers to take over not only public space but also individuals' private space. In this 2014-2015 report, the authors consider how schools facilitate the work of digital marketers and examine the effects of their relentless tracking of and marketing to children. Schools now routinely direct students online to do their schoolwork; and they collect student data using education and recordkeeping software that is useful to marketers as well--creating a threat to students' privacy. Schools' embrace of digital technology augments and amplifies traditional types of education-related marketing, which include: (1) appropriation of space on school property; (2) exclusive agreements; (3) sponsored programs and activities; (4) incentive programs; (5) sponsorship of supplementary educational materials; and (6) fundraising. These marketing efforts, conducted with the implicit blessing of administrators, teachers, and parents, combine to normalize for children the notion that corporations have a legitimate role in their education and in their lives more generally. In addition to threatening children's right to privacy, these practices raise serious concerns about their effect on children's physical and psychological well-being and about their impact on the integrity of the education children receive. By engaging in these practices, schools abet the socialization of students as consumers who take for granted that others have a right to keep their behavior under constant surveillance for marketing purposes--even at the cost of their own well-being. In this report, the authors provided the following recommendations: (1) Parents, teachers, and administrators--as individuals and through their organizations--work to make public the threats that branded programs and materials, as well as unregulated digital technologies, pose to children when they are allowed into schools and classrooms; (2) The Federal Trade Commission extend the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) protections to age 14 and strengthen the protections offered to adolescents ages 15-18; (3) Industry self-regulation not be relied upon to protect the interests of students. Instead, policymakers should adopt enforceable legislation that holds schools, districts, and companies with access to student data accountable for violations of student privacy; (4) Legislators carefully review proposed legislative language to ensure that it does not contain loopholes that provide companies with opportunities to collect and exploit children's data while also "following the letter of the law"; (5) Those designing and reviewing relevant policies ensure that policies protect the privacy not only of student educational records but also of the wide variety of student data (including anonymized data) now being collected and shared. Such policies should explicitly address the potential commercial use of any data collected; (6) School district and privacy specialists review contracts with educational technology and other providers to check specifically for provisions or omissions that enable third parties to monitor and/or exploit students for commercial gain; and (7) Policymakers at every level seek to eliminate perverse incentives that encourage parents, teachers, and administrators to sacrifice student privacy in an effort to financially support educationally necessary school activities. Appended to the report is: Comparison of 2015 Federal Education Data Privacy Bills. (The report contains 182 notes and references.) [For the previous year's report, see "On the Block: Student Data and Privacy in the Digital Age--The Seventheenth Annual Report on Schoolhouse Commercializing Trends, 2013-2014," at ED558607.]
Commercialism in Education Research Unit. Available from: National Education Policy Center. University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309. Tel: 303-735-5290; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Consumers Union
Authoring Institution: University of Colorado at Boulder, National Education Policy Center; University of Colorado at Boulder, Commercialism in Education Research Unit (CERU)
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act 1974