Are Schools Allowing Kids to Be Tracked Online?

If you have been to a public or private school since the start of the academic year, you have likely seen consumer media tablets being used by students and teachers in our nation’s classrooms.

The question now is will schools and parents get in a rage about these same media tablets allowing advertisers to track student activities online?


Earlier this year, my colleague Brendon Lynch, Chief Privacy Officer at Microsoft wrote an important article on Microsoft’s position on “Do Not Track in the Windows 8 Setup Experience“. In a nutshell, Microsoft places the privacy of our consumers as a top priority.  As a devices and services company, that also provides advertising networks, this was not a trivial decision for Microsoft or our customers.

What is Do Not Track (DNT)?
Debate about DNT continues. Just in case you have not been participating, allow me to provide a layperson’s view of DNT. Think Hansel and Gretel. Everywhere you go on the Internet (and increasingly more through Internet-connected apps,) you leave cookie crumbs. Actually, these cookies are placed on your computer by websites and advertisers to customize and personalize content for you. Advertisers mine these cookies to predict behavior and target advertising that is more relevant for you. It is the simply the way the Web has worked for years.

Microsoft chooses security and privacy by design in all of our products and services. It is a commitment and a continuing journey.  This commitment aligns well with education agencies that need to protect the students in their charge each day.

To Track or Not to Track?
In contrast to non-Windows consumer tablets, Microsoft’s default position is to turn DNTon” for our Windows 8 devices and operating systems. Consumers can certainly turn DNToff” if they want to be track by advertisers, but to be tracked is your choice.  Almost all of the non-Windows tablets in classrooms today have the default position to track online behavior.  It is up to the educator to find those settings and turn them off.

Earlier this year, I wrote that we would begin to experience friction between consumerization and craftsmanship. I am huge advocate of empowering consumers. At the same time, as a professional, I fully understand why we gladly pay for expertise.  (One day, please remind me to tell you the story of how I tried to fix my toilet and then ultimately I had to call the plumber to bail me out.) Even in a time of great Web films, I still pay to see a great cinema.  Therein lies the friction between consumerization and craftmanship.

Consumer media tablets are just that. They are first designed for consumers.  Advertisers and consumers share a symbiotic relationship. Advertisers ultimately serve to help you become more efficient and effective consumers.  To achieve that goal, adverstisers need to be able to track, analyze, and predict your behavior.  While all of that is fine, that is not the goal of learning. Nor should it be a by-product of using technology in an educational context.

In the end, hundreds of companies have advertisements in our schools everyday. From athletics and gym class to math and reading, there is advertising in our schools. Many of those advertisements provide critical funding where students and educators need it. In a future article, I will share what educators can learn from marketers and advertisers to improve learning outcomes and student engagement. So no one should be up in arms about advertising in education.  It happens. We are clearly over it. However, protecting the privacy of children is another matter–and one that should not be taken lightly.

Talking in Class
Here is your chance to talk in class. Did you and your leadership team have a discussion about privacy in education before deploying consumer media tablets to classrooms? Did craftsmanship lose out to consumerization in the race to engage students? Let me know in the comments below.

Selling America’s Kids: Commercial Pressures on Kids of the 90’s

Advertising to children: Is it ethical?

To Track or Not to Track? Not Just a Question, a Choice for Consumers and Industry

Microsoft Privacy by Design

Do Not Track in the Windows 8 Setup Experience