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Internet Safety Labs Research Reveals 96% of School Apps Send Student Data to Third Parties, Including Advertisers

Written by Internet Safety Labs

December 13, 2022

New report highlights pervasive safety risks to children and families are present in technology recommended and used by U.S. educational institutions

SAN DIEGO, December 13, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) – Internet Safety Labs (ISL, previously the Me2B Alliance), a non-profit organization dedicated to independent software product safety testing, today announced new research titled 2022 K12 Edtech Safety Benchmark: National Findings, Part I.With 96% of educational apps sharing children’s personal information with third parties — 78% of the time with advertising and data analytics entities, typically without the knowledge or consent of the users or the schools — it’s clear the technology recommended and used by U.S. educational institutions poses substantial privacy and safety risks to children and families.

Key Findings:

  • Nearly all apps (96%) share children’s personal information with third parties, 78% of the time with advertising and data analytics entities, typically without the knowledge or consent of the users or the schools, making them unsafe.
  • 28% of apps were Non-Education Specific, such as The New York Times, YouTube or Spotify, effectively providing no limits or guardrails for children.
  • School apps (23%) expose kids to digital ads, which creates a risk that personal student data is being sent into advertising networks, with no way for the public to inspect where it goes or how it’s used; more than half of those apps (13%) use retargeting ads, which use cookies, search and site history to serve up targeted advertising; this means even more personal student data is being sent into advertising networks to better serve the advertisers.
  • Google dominates K12 edtech as the prime supplier of both hardware and software, raising questions about the safety of having children deeply connected to the internet by the world’s leading advertising platform. 68% of apps were observed sending data to Google.
  • Apple was the second most heavily trafficked platform with 36% of apps sending data to Apple.

Methodology

The research was carried out to provide a baseline safety measurement of technology commonly used by K12 schools. This report is the first of four the ISL will publish as a part of a comprehensive K-12 educational technology benchmark studying a random sampling of 13 schools in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia – 663 schools in total, covering about 455,882 students. 1,722 apps (technologies) were either recommended or required by at least one school as indicated by the school or district website. ISL tested 1,357 of those apps, collecting over 88,000 data points on the apps and over 29,000 data points on the schools.

“This benchmark is a much-needed measurement of just how safe edtech technology is for our youth,” said Lisa LeVasseur, executive director of ISL. “We all know how much personal data is already flowing to companies that excel in monetizing it, but this research provides an accurate look at the reality of where student data is going. We hope this research will highlight how urgent the problem is and further our efforts to create strong software product safety standards that lead to positive change and make internet-connected technology safe for everyone.”

The safety benchmark, funded by the Internet Society Foundation, validates and expands findings published by the ISL in its “School Mobile Apps Student Data Sharing Behavior” research (Spotlight Report #1, May 2021). That seminal study led to this massive project using actual analysis of apps and network traffic to examine in depth the broader question of what kind of safety risks exist across all K12 Edtech apps, especially in apps that are mandatory for students.

Download the report, 2022 K12 Edtech Safety Benchmark: National Findings, Part I.” at no charge. School systems looking for more information can contact services@internetsafetylabs.org. Organizations interested in advancing Internet safety and privacy standards can visit the website to learn more about how to work with ISL.

About Internet Safety Labs

Internet Safety Labs is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, independent software product safety testing organization, unrelentingly on the side of consumers and their safety. Through standards development, product research, product audits and policy advocacy, we work to ensure software product safety. We believe it’s time for software and software-driven products to be tested with the same safety rigor we apply to all the physical products in our lives. For more information, please visit https://internetsafetylabs.org/.

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