- Though evidence suggests schools that implement technology vetting see fewer ads in their apps, around 91% of public school websites have trackers, and 20% feature advertisements, according to an analysis by nonprofit Internet Safety Labs.
- The tech safety testing and research firm found that, of the schools it observed, none of the low-income schools vetted their technology, and these schools also had the highest rate of “unsafe apps with digital ads, and apps with behavioral ads.” On top of that, only half of low-income schools provided devices to their students.
- To address student data privacy equity gaps, Internet Safety Labs recommends that all school districts should employ at least one full-time software procurement specialist. This role should be responsible for conducting annual technology audits and managing vendors.
The Internet Safety Labs report’s most “disturbing findings” were related to technology use and advertising patterns among low-income schools and in schools where a majority of the student population are American Indian and Alaskan Native, said Lisa LeVasseur, executive director of Internet Safety Labs.
“It all started to paint a disturbing picture,” LeVasseur said. Just as these groups of students have far less access to technology, she said, their data and access appears to be more at risk, too.
The analysis of over 1,700 ed tech apps in 663 K-12 schools also found one-third of websites at schools with a majority Black student population had advertisements — which marked the highest rate across all demographics. Black majority schools were 64% more likely to have ads on their websites compared to the national average, and 76% more likely than predominantly White schools.
The nonprofit advises that schools remove digital advertising and digital third-party trackers. “They’re inherently leaky with personal information,” LeVasseur said. “At a minimum, they’re giving enough information to fingerprint a kid and identify the user.”
A previous Internet Safety Labs report from 2023 demonstrated that 96% of apps used or recommended by schools shared students’ personal information with third parties. And almost all major ed tech sites use “extensive” tracking technologies, according to a separate study by the University of Chicago and New York University.
Beyond personal identifying information, LeVasseur said that any kind of data collected on someone has the potential to cause harm. “Almost any data can be used against someone’s best interest. It can be from a range of physical harm to just manipulation through advertising and profiling, which we believe is not healthy — especially for children.”
The trend of schools having small yet risky technology portfolios “really feels like” it’s because some schools are seriously lacking IT resources, she added, particularly when considering that the report found no low-income schools implemented technology vetting practices.