Student Privacy Concerns Grow – Spotlight #418

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s March 21st. The Senate Judiciary Committee begins its hearings at 11 a.m. today on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first female African American justice on the Supreme Court.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,358 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted: “Children deserve to be protected before they have the ability to consent that their data be shared and sold to third parties.”— Maryland state senator Susan Lee to Government Technology on her sponsorship of new student privacy legislation. We unpack the issue in Maryland and elsewhere in Spotlight Explainer below.

a) Instacart launched Shoppable Recipes with partners TikTok, Tasty, and Hearst Magazines. As content creators share their short video recipes on TikTok or a magazine site, the audience watching the video can easily add the ingredients to an Instacart cart. In addition to TikTok, sites featuring Shoppable Recipes include Good Housekeeping and Country Living.

b) A bipartisan group of House Judiciary committee members have requested that the Justice Department investigate Amazon and its executives for obstruction of Congress. The lawmakers say that the company has refused to answer its questions and has not produced information that committee members say would implicate Amazon in anticompetitive behavior.

c) Columbia University may have gamed the famous U.S. News college rankings according to a tenured math professor at the school. Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell surfaced Prof. Michael Thaddeus’ allegations to his newsletter audience last week. If his explanation is accurate, Columbia has done things like use the cost of patient care in its hospital as part of its teaching expenditure. The school also reported that more than 96% of its faculty were full-time and that 100% of the faculty had attained the highest possible degree in their field, data that Columbia reports lower in other surveys.

3. Search Engine News — Google Related Search & New Hotel Searching

Google introduced a new related search feature for advertisers last week. The feature allows websites that monetize using Google’s AdSense program to display a “related searches” widget directly on their site. If a visitor clicks a related search, they remain on the site, but on an embedded Google search results page.

Why is that important? We’ve been telling you since Spotlight started years ago that Google’s mission is to control the entire information research ecosystem. By subsidizing publishers, Google takes the reins from a visitor who may be dissatisfied with the search result and try a competing search engine. 

Google gives the publisher some money for their trouble, but it’s not a lot. The big thing that Google gets is the ability to learn what site it sent a search visitor to and how that person refined their request to get the information that they wanted.

Hotels will see a similar tool that they use get expanded availability soon. Free hotel booking links will now appear directly on Google Maps and Google Search. That inserts Google as a middleman between the hotel and traveler. Restaurants already suffer similar encroachment from Google, Facebook, and delivery apps that provide links to their ordering process instead of the restaurant’s website.

4. Spotlight Explainer — Student Privacy

As education tech and online tracking grow, students of all ages are being observed in ways that were never possible before. Privacy advocates express extreme concern about schools using location monitoring, facial recognition, and device tracking to stay abreast of student behavior. 

The Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act is the law that protects student privacy according to the Education Department. That law took effect in 1974 and was last amended twenty years ago in 2002. Critics understandably say that it is incomplete given technology advances since then.

Device Tracking & Student Privacy
School personnel use software that monitors a student’s behavior online–even if they’re at home–while using a school-issued device. Schools argue that they own the device, and that teachers can only view information during school hours. That’s not always the case. An important distinction remains that teachers cannot access the data, including location coordinates, but that the data is saved and can be viewed by school administrators.

No Student Privacy With Facial Recognition at Lunch
The promise of accurate and contactless school lunch payments led some UK schools to begin using facial recognition last fall. They were quickly warned by a national privacy agency to “consider less intrusive ways” of collecting payments.

A school district in New York had already begun using a similar program before the state government banned facial recognition in its schools. Meanwhile, Colorado legislators last week advanced a bill that would ban all facial recognition in public and charter schools until 2025.

Universities & Facial Recognition
One of the most prominent recent abuses of student privacy became public knowledge last month when interim George Washington University president Mark Wrighton apologized for GW tracking student, faculty, and staff locations during the fall semester. The program had begun before Wrighton arrived and his email to the community was explicit about what was tracked.

When To Sue An Unknown Student
A Chapman University professor has sued a student known so far only as John Doe because that student uploaded copies of questions from his midterm and final exams in a business law course. The company would not identify the person who uploaded the information without a legal proceeding so the professor sued. 

Online cheating is a serious issue. The Markup published an outstanding story last month about a company called Honorlock that uses websites seeded with specific exam questions and tracking software to identify students who look for them.  Honorlock’s critics call the ruse entrapment and are encouraging educators to find different ways to assess student knowledge.

5. Did That Really Happen? — UCLA Posted A Professor’s Job Last Week With No Compensation

UCLA published a job listing last week with a strange provision:

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA seeks applications for an Assistant Adjunct Professor on a without salary basis. Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.

The people who use the internet had some thoughts about that until the job listing vanished. Not before it was captured here, of course, but pretty fast.

Now UCLA is apologizing for “unfortunate wording” for a position that it said required an affiliation with the school, but would be paid for by a grant. But yes, the university did advertise for an unpaid chemistry professor gig. Wait until Columbia hears about this.

6. Following Up — Yale List of Who Left & Who Stayed In Russia

In much the same way that Johns Hopkins leaped to the forefront of COVID-19 data publishing in January of 2020, Yale has developed a list of hundreds of organizations and whether they still do business in Russia. 

Hundreds have left that country after it attacked Ukraine, but 37 remain including Credit Suisse, Koch Industries, Renault, and Subway.

7. Protip — Leaving Photos Behind When You Die

No one wants to plan for this, but if you read Spotlight, we know that you’re most likely a planner. Wired has a nice, short piece on how to best organize the digital photo portion of your legacy. (P.S. Don’t forget to set up access to your digital accounts for email, social media, and banking too. It’s important.)

8. Screening Room — Tattoos & Duolingo

A hysterical promotion and accompanying ad from Duolingo UK is worth your time. 

9. Science Fiction World — AI Speech

Now that the Duolingo spot loosened you up, you must watch this video from AI voice company Sonantic.  You won’t regret giving it two minutes.

 10. Coffee Break — Test Your Reaction Time

JustPark lets you take the wheel in this quick “emergency stop game” to grade your reflexes. I tell you this as a thirty-one year old man who may be a bit older than that.

 11. Sign of the Times

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