Southern California’s Glendale Unified School District has hired an outside company to spy on their students’ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube activities, going truly above and beyond in the name of student safety.
While it’s hardly surprising to see public schools invading the privacy of their students, be it through iris scanning or forcing students to wear RFID-enabled identification cards, this is truly unusual.
Richard Sheehan, the superintendent of the Glendale district, told CBS Los Angeles that a Hermosa Beach, California company called Geo Listening is busy analyzing the online posts of some 13,000 students across eight middle and high schools in his district.
The system is reportedly aimed at giving information that school administrators consider critical to their personnel as quickly as possible.
“We do monitor on and off campus, but we do pay attention during school hours,” Sheehan said to CBS Los Angeles. “We do pay more attention to the school computers.”
Geo Listening specifically markets itself to schools seeking to spy on their students, or as they put it, monitor for students “crying for help.”
The company explains that its missions is to “Provide more timely and relevant information to school administrators so that they can better intervene in the lives of children, and ultimately provide these kids with a more optimal chance to become productive citizens with positive peer connections.”
During the pilot program last year, the district was able to intervene in the case of a suicidal student thanks to the Geo Listening service, according to Sheehan.
“The administrator was contacted at the school site,” Sheehan said. “Then we made contact with the student, the student’s family and we got them the appropriate help.”
However, self-harm and suicide are not the only things that Geo Listening has been used to ferret out.
“We have provided information to school districts, which has led to numerous successful interventions on behalf of students that intended self-harm, suicide, bullying, truancy, substance abuse, and vandalism,” Chris Frydrych, CEO of Geo Listening, said.
“We monitor only public posts to social networks. We do not monitor privatized pages, SMS, MMS, email, phone calls, voicemails,” Frydrych added.
CNET points out that, “In legal terms, any public posting is fair game.” Therefore, technically speaking, there is no privacy violation occurring.
While the company and the superintendent tout the system’s ability to keep students safe, CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk is a bit more cynical about the potential uses of the technology.
Geo Listening is “surely able to build up a huge trove of information about all individuals which, at least theoretically, might prove to be valuable (to someone) in the future,” Matyszczyk writes.
He points out that a future employer could demand records gathered by Geo Listening in the future, records which people might want erased.
If a child was a bully in the past, for example, they’d probably want to leave that history behind but records like these could “keep that past alive,” according to Matyszczyk.
The ultimate problem with any type of surveillance, no matter who is conducting it, is that there are no guarantees about how the information collected is being used now or in the future or what information is actually being collected, as Matyszczyk rightly notes.
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This article first appeared at End the Lie.
Madison Ruppert is the Editor and Owner-Operator of the alternative news and analysis database End The Lie and has no affiliation with any NGO, political party, economic school, or other organization/cause. He is available for podcast and radio interviews. Madison also now has his own radio show on UCYTV Monday nights 7 PM – 9 PM PT/10 PM – 12 AM ET. Show page link here: http://UCY.TV/EndtheLie. If you have questions, comments, or corrections feel free to contact him at [email protected]