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Caught in the web

Tuesday, 4th March, 2014

 Schoolkids exposed to ‘data mining’

 The Barrier Teachers Association has joined a call urging parents to be diligent about protecting their children’s identity online.

 Detailed personal information about thousands of Australian children is up for grabs each time they log in at school, a forum has heard, and parents have no idea.

 The Australian Council of State School Organisations (ACSSO) says free web tools such as Google apps and Gmail are widely used in schools, and the company has agreed not to show advertising to in-school users of their online offerings.

 But Jeff Gould, president of US tech privacy advocacy body SafeGov, told a forum in Sydney yesterday that children’s online activities during school hours could still be scanned for personal data that could be used to show potentially troubling advertising to them beyond the school gates.

 It’s known as ‘data mining’, Mr Gould said, and a joint SafeGov-ACSSO survey of 1000 Australian parents in 2013 showed most knew nothing about the practice.

 “The majority of parents, 54 per cent, basically don’t know anything,” he said.

 Mr Gould said most parents were savvy enough to warn their children not to provide personal information, but data mining was more insidious.

 A 13-year-old could log on at school, away from parents’ watchful eyes, and send an email about a topless picture.

 “And when they go outside school, or log into YouTube, or some other site that has nothing to do with Google but where Google is selling an ad on that site, they will get an ad for nude webcams or sexy singles or whatever,” Mr Gould said.

 “Even if you’re disclosing nothing they can still figure out all these things about you.”

 Barrier Teachers Association president, Maureen Clark, said there hadn’t been any local complaints as yet, but that could be because parents simply aren’t aware that their children are being watched.

 “Parents may well not be concerned because they wouldn’t necessarily know it was happening,” said Mrs Clark.

 “Some parents are still trying to get their heads around the potential dangers of predators contacting their children, but advertising is also insidious.

 Mrs Clark said the exposure of explicit content in the classroom and reduced privacy could also be attributed to the downfall of federally-funded free laptop program, which has resulted in children bringing their own computers into schools.

 “The Department of Education and Communities has a formal Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy,” she said.

 “The NSW Teachers Federation has previously spoken out about the privacy issues involved with this BYOD policy and the door has certainly been open to the potential exposure of students to unwanted advertising and pornography.

 “This has to be a nightmare to police in schools, as well as at home.”

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