It was bound to happen. Schools, fearful of the next outbreak of intolerable violence, began tracking students’ activities on social networks. Businesses have been doing it. It’s a standard, not-so-loudly-spoken of procedure that a future employer will do a Google and Facebook search of someone they are considering to hire. So when it escalates to a group of schools employing companies to crawl social networks and gather information from its students, it should be no surprise.
Since last year Glendale schools have been piloting a program that crawls the internet and open social networks for public postings and aggregates that information to provide to school representatives. The goal is to provide officials with information in a timely way that may provide them with an insight into potentially emerging dangerous behavior or already occurring dangerous behavior. The reported price tag for the Geo Listening’s surveying and reporting of the 13,000 middle and high school students in the Glendale system: $40,500 annually.
At risk is students’ privacy and the potential for schools to overreach and stifle students free speech. While Geo Listening claims it only pulls public posts, the company has used students’ lack of awareness of the permissions and level of exposure associated with posts as a selling point to prospective institutions. On the company’s own frequently asked questions (FAQ), the company has said:
Users of Social Networks receive a username and password, which gives them a right to publish social commentary and media. Most users below the age of 25 do not utilize the available privacy settings because they are seeking to be recognized for their respective posts. They have chosen to post in the public domain in exchange for popularity and a decreasing ability to communicate effectively face to face.
The unwarranted insult to young students is clearly targeted at gaining favor with an aging demographic that is more fearful of technology than appreciative, underlines a more insidious and dangerous possibility. The schools are clearly looking after their own potential liability and not after the good of the students. What a better way to encourage, by Geo Listening’s word, socially inept youths to grow than to remind them that they have their very own big brother watching.