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Class Communication apps – is student data safe?

Class communication apps are a new addition to the suite of classroom management tools. They aim to help the parents of (usually younger) children keep up to date with their school days.

Bloomz and KeptMe are just some of the new apps aiming to help connect teachers and parents. Parents can log on and see updates from teachers on a whole range of things: the students’ grades, homework, and even photos of their kids at school. The aim is to foster more effective learning by engaging students and keeping their parents updated on everything going on in the classroom.

Perhaps most popular is ClassDojo:

ClassDojo has raised $31.1 million USD to bring their free service to classrooms. Now, with over 90% of US K-8 schools (students between the ages of 5-14) using the app, it’s become incredibly popular around the globe, currently with a growing user base of 35+ million.

It’s not hard to see why they’re doing so well. It looks like an incredible teaching aid. And, being free, it seems like an absolute no-brainer to bring into your school. At Internet Safe Education, we love seeing technology like this doing such an incredible job – however, the nature of the functionality is a potential cause for concern.


Collecting and storing data

The fact of the matter is; in order for ClassDojo to work, it needs to track and store data on children. Most free software services that track data make money by selling the information they collect to third party services – usually advertisers. This is bad for a two of reasons:

  • A) Advertisers can use this data in often disturbingly well targeted ways – for example, this case where Target knew a young girl was pregnant before her father did, thanks to their customer tracking technology.
  • B) If data is stored, it can be stolen. There have been many cases of large databases being breached by hackers. Even our most trusted service providers aren’t always 100% safe. It’s been shown time and time again that we should be wary of saving data anywhere – especially that of vulnerable kids.


ClassDojo Policies

ClassDojo claim in their privacy policy that they will never sell the information they collect to anyone, for any purpose. This means that our first issue isn’t really a direct concern (more on this later, however). ClassDojo instead seek to turn a profit by building out their platform to offer special features and functionality at a price for their more active users, rather than selling information on users.

ClassDojo also do not claim to own the data they collect legally – instead, any data collected remains the express property of the user. Data ownership clauses in the Terms and Conditions of most of our favourite online services often state exactly the opposite. Facebook, for example, legally owns all the data you enter into their platform, allowing them to do what they please with it. This means, often selling it to others in the form of targeted ads on their platform.

ClassDojo’s position on who owns the data is an unheard of level of decency from a technology company. Although it is not particularly surprising. It’s not often that we see technology designed for children, as any technology that caters to users under 13 years of age needs to comply with The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

However, our second point – data vulnerabilities and the potential for hacking – is still a definite concern.

Intricate data on a child’s educational and behavioural development could prove to be an attractive target to hackers. This sort of information could be disastrous in the wrong hands.  Users should strongly consider whether or not the information they’re storing could be potentially harmful in the hands of someone else before they hit ‘save’.

That being said, ClassDojo do seem to understand this risk, and have very sensible data storage policies in place. Profile data not explicitly saved by a parent or student will expire and be deleted after one year, and anyone can request that their data be removed from the platform by contacting the ClassDojo team.


Minimising the online footprint

Just like we teach children that they should be wary of what they are putting on public internet, as teachers, parents and guardians we need to do right by the children in our care.

Your online footprint does not end where the public eye does. Most of your ‘online profile’ is stored privately – but that doesn’t mean it will be forever. It’s always wise to give just as much thought as to what you are saving as what you are sharing publicly. You never know who may be able to access this data should it ever be leaked.

Teachers should consider what feedback they are delivering over the application. Negative remarks on a student’s progress might be best given to a parent or guardian non-digitally. Just like you wouldn’t want a child posting photos of themselves acting up on Facebook or Instagram, so too do we want to reduce the risk of their past misbehaviour from haunting them in the future by keeping this kind of information off of the cloud.


Final thoughts

It’s important that parents give informed consent before signing up their children for any online service. Even one as seemingly innocuous as ClassDojo. Not all schools ask parents for their approval before entering their children’s data into these systems.

Lastly, ClassDojo’s terms and conditions do state clearly that they will never share your data, and never will. However, due to the nature of their business model (they are funded entirely by private investors) there is potential for this to change.

Investors do not invest for charitable reasons. They seek to make a profit. One way of securing a return on their investors’ bet on their company is to simply sell the company. With so many users and so much data, ClassDojo would be an attractive purchase for a larger organisation. Of course, this would mean all ClassDojo data would come under its new owner’s privacy policy – so ensure you are keeping up with any changes to the service’s ownership and Terms and Conditions.


Helpful resources for online safety

If you’d like to learn more about children’s online safety, and keeping the children in your care secure, we strongly recommend having a read of our free handbook; 5 principles to stay safe online.

You might also like to read our other handbooks on Safe Online Gaming, and our exploration of the Dark Web.