Dangers of data mining in schools

Dangers of data mining in schools

There's no such thing as a free lunch. Everytime you sign on to a free web-based service, you are giving out your name, age, birthdate, address, to say the least.

A line under the terms and conditions of the Gmail account reads, "We may collect information about the services that you use and how you use them, like when you visit a website that uses our advertising services or you view and interact with our ads and content. This information includes: device information, log information and location information."

With the 10,000 schools in the country set to be penetrated by cloud computing under the 1BestariNet programme, a group of parents are expressing their concern that it may open a floodgate of data tracking on the students.

Concerned parent Sidek Kamiso says students should not be unwittingly exposed to covert advertising and marketing by the companies.

"What data mining can do is to cut or dice the information gathered, identify the children by a certain demographic, like finding out their parents' income level ... We certainly do not want that to happen to our children," says Sidek.

The dangers of data mining, he adds should be brought to attention although the use of computers in most schools is still at its infancy stage.

"The moment it reaches critical mass, it will be too late to consider all the dangers of data mining," says Sidek.

He believes that the onus is on parents to be aware of the implications of data mining and pressure the government to set up regulations to circumvent it.

"The children should be allowed to choose what they like and dislike, they should not be bombarded with products just because their data has been mined," says Sidek.

In a survey carried out by SafeGov.org in partnership with the Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE), 93% of the parents surveyed are concerned that their children's online activities will be tracked in schools.

(SafeGov.org is a forum for IT providers and leading industry experts dedicated to promoting trusted and responsible cloud computing solutions for the public sector.)

Meanwhile, three in four parents are aware of data mining although only one in eight have heard "a great deal" about this practice.

"If the majority of parents disapprove of data mining, then what can we do about it? These are questions that we can throw back at the regulators," says Sidek.

"It's not just for the blocking of certain websites in schools. The problem is, the service providers can use the data of the students for marketing purposes. The government should come up with a law that requires the service providers to turn off tracking activities when students surf the web in schools," he adds.

PAGE chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim says that there is a great need for teachers to properly educated about the full implications of data mining in schools.

"As far as parents are concerned, the Internet is not utilised in learning as much as it should be, due to logistical problems.

"At the moment, teachers are not tech-savvy enough to make the most out of the 4G network that will be made available to all schools," she says.

Jeff Gould from SafeGov.org says studies in several countries yield similar results where parents around the world are very positive about the benefits of internet to learning and yet concerned about tracking and profilling activities targeting students.

He said that schools, instead of just using the Internet service providers should take some responsibility by asking permission from parents and giving them clear and honest asnwers on what to expect with cloud computing.

"When schools signs a contract with a service provider, students may have to use the email provided for under the contract.

"Also, once Internet access is available, you will be sending emails, messaging, creating and sharing docuements, these are the services that are doing all the data mining," says Gould.

A school in Stockholm has been ordered to halt the use of Google Apps for Education service in September this year following the lack of an agreement with the US firm to cover the protection and management of personal information of the students.

The Data Inspection Boards in its statement states that the responsible parties must make sure that personal data is handled in a legal manner especially in a school environment where there is sensitive personal data relating to children and young people.

SafeGov has been campaigning to get Europe to adopt a code of conduct that would contain a promise from cloud providers not to mine student data and not to serve ads to children at schools.

"What we really want is to have free Internet service without advertising and tracking of the data, parents must give their permission there is advertising involved," says Gould.

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