US schools gave students laptops during the pandemic and then used them to spy on them

A recent research by the Cenyer for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has found that US schools gave their students laptops during the pandemic and then used the same to spy on them. Apparently, schools across the United States had distributed laptops and even internet tech to millions of students who don’t have access to to technologies, just so they would be able to learn remotely. But the catch was that these tools came to be used for spying.

Trying to Close Disparities While Keeping an Eye on Kids

The research has found that 86 percent teachers said that the pandemic saw schools providing laptops, tablets, and Chromebooks to their students. These figures are double their pre-pandemic counterparts (43 percent), and depict how the schools have been attempting to “close disparities in digital access.”

But here’s the catch. These electronics are being used to keep tabs on students, and that too, beyond the academic. The study claims that schools are going through kids’ private chates, documents, and emails, all under the pretext of protecting them. Over 80 percent of the surveyed teachers and 77 percent of surveyed high school students have informed the CDT that their schools have been using surveillance software on these devices.

To Prevent Students from Harboring Suicidal Ideations

One particular sccool administrator has said that the measures have been taken considering the fact that students have “ideations” about suicide and self-harm, among other things. In order to stop prevent such instances, they have been making use of a “student activity monitoring software.” The administrator has also said that schools believe the tool might be helpful in preventing bullying, signing off by saying that the move will be worthwhile if even one student can be stopped from committing suicide.

These software have been installed on school-provided devices to monitor students’ interactions. If a child’s chats or mails suggest that they might be thinking of hurting themselves, then an AI bot or even a human moderator can send an alert to an administrator or teacher.

US schools gave students laptops during the pandemic and then used them to spy on them
Image Credits: Gaggle

The programs that are being used can range from Bark, Gaggle, Gnosis IQ, and Lightspeed, and despite causing schools thousands of dollars, can be installed to look for online behavior or language that might indicate the possibility of violent tendencies, drug abuse, eating disorders, pornography use, or even suicidal ideation. While spying on students might seem ethically wrong, the reason why schools resorted to the tactic doesn’t seem so far-fetched.