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Kids for Sale - Privacy in Canadian Schools

posted by:Valerie Steeves // 01:55 PM // January 21, 2005 // Digital Democracy: law, policy and politics

Earlier this week, my daughter in grade 9 came home from school with a iFlurtz survey form. The survey asks for the student’s full name and birthdate, before delving into a range of questions like:

A 'Double iced mocha frappuccino' is:
a) one of life's necessities
b) a chance to free your inner spaz
c) overpriced designer coffee
d) a funny thing to say

Your fave t.v. shows are:
a) comedies
b) dramas
c) reality shows
d) sports
e) music videos
f) sci-fi
g) talk shows
h) news

Apparently the survey is a fund raiser – kids fill it out to find out the names of 10 other students in their school they should date. Trouble is, their personal data – full name and date of birth, as well as preferences – is sent to the US where it’s collated and matched against data from other students in their school. A marketer’s gold mine, n’est-ce pas?

When my daughter asked her teacher what was up with the survey, she was told (and I quote) "If you’re an obedient kid, you’ll fill it out." Friends of hers were told they had to fill it out before their teacher would "allow" them to do their class work. No notification of purpose, no consent, just one big mandatory opt in.

The teacher organizing the survey clarified after the event – the survey is a way for school clubs to raise money, it’s supposed to be completely optional, and the data isn’t resold – but there’s more here than bad administration. As schools are being increasingly commodified, students are often what’s up for sale. My house is deluged with marketing material handed out to my kids in school – including offers to join clubs or fill out "surveys", almost all of which collect their personal information - in spite of the fact our local school has a "no commercial promotion" policy in place. And getting your kid’s name off the commercial lists if they do join a club or buy something is next to impossible.

If we’re going to take privacy and anonymity seriously, it’s about time we took privacy education seriously too. Students need to know more than their informational rights – they need to know the reasons why, in a democracy, people exercise their right to privacy. To me, the most troubling part of the story is that my kid was the only one of her friends that refused to fill out the survey, even though a number of them were uncomfortable or didn’t want to do it. They felt they "had to" because they were "told to".

On the other hand, the schools need some educating too. I had another child enrolled in a medical research project and interviewed before she came home to tell me what she did at school that day. When I confronted the researcher (who was working with a well respected medical institution in Ottawa), she told me my school board had consented to my child’s participation on my behalf. I don’t think so… They destroyed my kid’s data, but what about the 20 other 5 year olds in her kindergarten class? Do you think that when they’re told to fill out their iFlurtz survey in grade 9 they’ll even think about resisting?


i think you are right in suggesting that it is **not merely the kids** who need privacy training!!

you sometimes here people say that they would willingly trade their privacy for reward points or, say, a new ipod. i don't think so. [well... maybe for a 40 gig ipod ...;)]

i think that it has more to do with the fact that people don't know what they are giving up when they fill out surveys like the one at your daughter's school.

how can we educate people about this en masse?

Posted by: ian at January 21, 2005 03:40 PM

To me, the most upsetting part is recognizing that even though the Ontario Freedom of Information and Privacy legislation has been around since the 1980s, we have not got around to covering educational institutions. Our kids are not protected by legislation. Is there anything more precious than the information, identity, and reputations of our young people?

Posted by: Stephanie Perrin at January 25, 2005 03:32 AM

I think you have to realize that, although these surveys collect personal information, its not a big huge deal. These iFluRtz surveys are fun for students and they help student-run organizations raise money. These organizations are non-profit and the money goes towards dances, sports, and activities for everyone to enjoy. Once you get upset with these organizations, you are making it difficult for people who are simply try to make the school a better place. You have to ease up a bit, because things like these help students, and your being uptight about it makes it harder on everyone. You are argueing against a charity here whos sole job is to make things better. They may be a "Marketeers dream" but this shows that you are ignorant of the details, no offense intended. They are not shared, they are fed into a computer and matched up, not sold to anyone. You have to be consciesce that people are trying to good, and you are making it difficult for them.

Posted by: Anonymous at March 19, 2006 03:38 PM

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