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The Big Biz of Spying On Little Kids 111

theodp writes: "'The NSA,' writes POLITICO's Stephanie Simon in her eye-opening Data Mining Your Children, 'has nothing on the ed tech startup known as Knewton. The data analytics firm has peered into the brains of more than 4 million students across the country. By monitoring every mouse click, every keystroke, every split-second hesitation as children work through digital textbooks, Knewton is able to find out not just what individual kids know, but how they think. It can tell who has trouble focusing on science before lunch — and who will struggle with fractions next Thursday.' Simon adds, 'Even as Congress moves to rein in the National Security Agency, private-sector data mining has galloped forward — perhaps nowhere faster than in education. Both Republicans and Democrats have embraced the practice. And the Obama administration has encouraged it, even relaxing federal privacy law to allow school districts to share student data more widely.'"
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The Big Biz of Spying On Little Kids

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  • big data,,, (Score:4, Funny)

    by Connie_Lingus ( 317691 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @10:49AM (#47025275) Homepage the new 42.

    • Big Data seems to have taken centre stage lately, but are there any cases where it has been shown to produce results? By that I mean, there is a metric shit tonne of money being thrown around and what are we getting in return? If Google targeted ads or TSA watchlists are anything to go I'd say it's a dismal failure. Is there any analysis that shows the rewards of big data are not meeting the risk (ie dismantling the intrinsic built-in trust of a civilised society and the govts we elect to serve us)?
      • Is there any analysis that shows the rewards of big data are not meeting the risk (ie dismantling the intrinsic built-in trust of a civilised society and the govts we elect to serve us)?

        A more cynical person might suggest that dismantling the trust is the reward some people seek. Divide and conquer is an old, venerable tactic used by both current and would-be tyrants everywhere.

        • Re:big data,,, (Score:5, Insightful)

          by causality ( 777677 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @10:47PM (#47029493)

          Is there any analysis that shows the rewards of big data are not meeting the risk (ie dismantling the intrinsic built-in trust of a civilised society and the govts we elect to serve us)?

          A more cynical person might suggest that dismantling the trust is the reward some people seek. Divide and conquer is an old, venerable tactic used by both current and would-be tyrants everywhere.

          And yet strangely, the technique and how to recognize it is not taught as a regular part of every school's history or civics class.

          In a less dysfunctional society where at least a few important things are not run by sociopaths, "Divide and Conquer" (perhaps taught by reading some Julius Caesar), "Propaganda Techniques", and "Logical Fallacies" would be mandatory courses for every human being.

      • Some more than a hundred billion dollars beg to disagree with your statement there, sir. As for your final question, I propose as an answer "Who cares?". Nobody cares about intrinsic built-in trust of a civilised society. All they want is profit to have as many bitches sucking on their dicks and their kids dicks. Human lifespan is short and the rich are accutely aware of this. This is why they take what they can when they can.

        You seem to believe someone out there in industryland cares even a little bit abou

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That's why I home school.

  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @10:56AM (#47025337) Journal

    This is fine if the parents agree to it. (Do they?) And as long as it is anonymized and not sold to Coke.

    Finally, applying science to learning at a more detailed level. What works, what is crap, what is overkill.

    • The bigger bonus to this is that it teaches children that constant surveillance is OK and expected.
      • by ccguy ( 1116865 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @11:11AM (#47025443) Homepage

        The bigger bonus to this is that it teaches children that constant surveillance is OK and expected.

        To be honest I think doing this to children is a lot better than doing it to adults. I mean, adults are doing nothing about it, but children will quickly learn that they are under surveillance at all times and will take extreme measures to counter it. I don't know of any child who isn't an expert on defeating their parents control techniques, whatever they are.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I see your point, but I doubt that the children are as aware of the surveillance, if they've even been told about it at all, as their adult parents; I don't think that they have the presence of mind about these issues to have their view of "privacy rights" impacted, any more than having every aspect of their lives controlled by an unelected ruler makes them all warm and snugly about autocracies.

      • My hope is that it teaches kids that they're being spied on, that kids don't like that and that they develop strategies to subvert and nullify it. Just like they did with their parents' attempts to keep them from sneaking out to go to that concert for decades.

        • by Jiro ( 131519 )

          I doubt that. Kids learn to escape their parents to go to a concert is that the concert is right there. Escaping their parents has an immediate, obviously visible, effect.

          The type of surveillance described above is a lot more insidious, with respect to children. They're being surveilled for data mining. The kids aren't going to notice any obvious effects of the surveillance--it's not as if being surveilled means that the teacher will catch them saying naughty words and punish them. Any effect on them t

          • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
            This is a timely article. My school is getting ready to tap into the ipad's for every student to save on books bandwagon. I need to find out more about their data privacy policy.
      • It's worse than that, because relationships are built on trust. When I grew up, my parents let me out, and I did bad things, but I learnt from those experiences and now considered myself a valued member of society. I knew that I was being trusted to make the right choices (even though I didn't most of the time), but by going down the path of failure making mistakes I learnt more than I could ever from reading a text book. I'm wondering if kids never have that chance to make mistakes then their development w
    • No, even if it is anonymized, this is a big "do not want". You must assume that this data will make its way into the hands of Coke, Apple, the banks, and government entities.

      These guys are quickly figuring out how the human brain works through methods like this, and they aren't using it for your benefit. It's being used to figure out how to sell you more crap, how to convince you to get others to buy more crap, and how to adjust your thinking patterns.

      I find it amazing how well people are programmed through

      • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
        The problem isn't that they'll figure it out. The problem is they will think they've figured it out and convince others, like lie detectors.
    • by ron_ivi ( 607351 )

      and not sold to Coke.

      Wouldn't education be even better if Coke subsidized it and passed the savings on to me?

  • Wow! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @11:10AM (#47025427)
    We really need a third party - I'm sick of both of the Republicans and Democrats. They both suck!!
    • Re:Wow! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Presto Vivace ( 882157 ) <> on Saturday May 17, 2014 @11:44AM (#47025647) Homepage Journal
      There are plenty of emergent parties. There is Socialist Alernative in Seattle, Mountain Party of West Virginia [], Vermont Progressive Party [], Independent Party of Connecticut [], the DC Statehod/Green Party [], and most states have a chapter of the Green Party. Vote for one of their candidates.
    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      They all suck because they are humans. :(

    • The problem is, the system is now optimized to narrow it down to two. Sort of like the game of Risk. You start with several players, and as soon as one of them starts to get big all the othere gang up and whittle the upstart down to size. Any time there's a third party, it only undermines one of the "two" in favor of the other. And neither of the two will allow anyone else in the debates so they can frame it like there are only two sides to each question and you never hear about the issues where they ag
  • When these kids grow up, most of them will be totally used to it and many more will accept government paternalism without complaint "for their own good". Many will likely even feel lost without "father" or "big brother" watching them and telling them what they are doing wrong.

    • Well, my hope is that more will be very fed up with it and resist any and all attempts to monitor them. Both is very possible, actually an extreme level of surveillance is likely to breed either extreme, total acceptance or total resistance.

      • Well, having seen a couple of generations grow up, unfortunately it's not a guess. Current generations are much less independent and much more supervised than past generations, and they consider it "normal".

  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @11:23AM (#47025513) Homepage Journal
    First, when a kid is in the roll of the student, there is not much expectation of privacy. There is an limitation to those who are allowed to invade the privacy, but it is not like a 15 year old kid who surfs p0rn can complain to his parents of the school that they violated his privacy by spying on him, even if he bought the phone and pays the bill.

    This is obviously an exaggeration, but the point is the same. If a student is working on an assignment, she is always observed to make sure for on task behavior, or to make sure the process is correct. The computer is no different. One problem with computer as a educator is that many students don't really know how to use it as tool. They only know how to use it as game. It is the difference between a pencil as a tool to complete a worksheet, or a pencil as toy to throw or use to play sword fighting. Both are legitimate uses of a pencil, in the proper circumstances, and kids need to be taught to use it as the former for typical educational purposes.

    So depending on how the data is used the age of the student, it is perfectly reasonable, even beneficial, for software to be monitoring the students behavior. The act of monitoring, just like in the classroom, can positively effect the students behavior. Likewise, constantly monitoring the use and effectiveness of the material is called formative assessment, which is not only beneficial but also required if you are going to give a student the unique educational experience that everyone seems to be clamoring for.

    So this is not necessarily like Disney tracking every move of the six year old children. If this is a legitimate educational service, and they violate the privacy of students, even if the students are over 13 years old(and Disney is free to do whatever they want with 13 year old children), they are in violation of federal laws protecting the privacy of students. This does not mean they cannot collect data, it just means they are limited in how they can use it, and who can see it.

    • little problem with your observation, traditionally the low amount of privacy was limited to a few people in the school; computers and networks can spread a child's personal information far and wide outside the realm of the local school and a few teachers with a principal.

    • by vpness ( 921181 )
      fermion makes a decent point. Maybe another way to restate his point is 'what's the difference between a *teacher* monitoring where a student is struggling in a classroom, and a *teacher* monitoring the student struggling online. Also, if in aggregate, and if anonymous, if the cloud can analyze where students struggle, and can improve the content, or *ID the teacher laggards* I'm all in. IMO, what is different is when some remote 3rd party monitors the *student, and can personally ID the student.*
      • The problem with your position is that it relies on foolish trust of authority figures. History has shown that that's a bad idea. They'll promise a number of things (such as that the data will be anonymous), but later break those promises either in secret, or at a time when most people just won't care (much like with the NSA surveillance).

        I wouldn't subject any child to this sort of abuse.

        • by vpness ( 921181 )
          good point, and fair enough. My position *would* require the cloud system to have some fairly rigorous controls (e.g. allow only the teacher to have the private key, with NO ADK) which in implementation, wouldn't likely ever get implemented.
  • This is a disgusting application of this technology, a continuance of the "big data" fallacy.

    More data is only helpful if you know how to analyze & factor it into a theory that allows for prediction.

    This data only serves to give beuarcrats & incompetent middle managers some "number" abstraction to "hit" so they can justify their existence.

    Gates is doing this too...these people should not be allows anywhere **near children**

    • You complain about the failing of schools, yet you give them less than 1/2 the dollars per pupil compared to private schools (which still aren't perfect) to accomplish the same task. The reason for all the tracking and testing is to try and optimize the educational system. You want personalized lesson plans so each student can learn at his or her own pace and in a manner which is best suited to him or her, while putting in $1/hour/pupil in human oversight and guidance? Good fucking luck! Put in $20/hr and y

      • hey some interesting info

        you said this:

        observing how and why a child learns in real time, and adjusting the curriculum to match. Computers can do this now

        I have to respectfully beg to differ on, we *dont* have the ability to do this...not even close

        computers will never be able to do as you say, it's too complex of behavior

  • of why school board elections are important. don't let this happen in your jurisdiction.
  • Problem solved.

  • The only choice you have to avoid it is unplug or counterintelligence, feed the wire-tappers false info! I'm sure that will be illegal at some point too... I guess it's open season for spying on congress and CEOs. Say goodbye to the world as you know it! Hello super-corruption. It's the culmination of all things we shed blood over in the twentieth century, think about it. Like having J. Edgar Hover amplified 6 orders of magnitude mixed with the hell of east-Berlin and corrupted African dictatorships all rol
  • That's how I interpret this.
    Humans, for all their faults and flaws, have an amazing degree of adaptability, especially when they don't have a baseline for comparison of their circumstances. If you raise a child in a bad situation, and that's all they really know, then they adapt to that situation; it becomes 'normal' to them, and they'll actually become uncomfortable if you try to 'improve' their situation, actually seeking the conditions they're adapted to. That's what these corporations and the government
    • If you raise a child in a bad situation, and that's all they really know, then they adapt to that situation; it becomes 'normal' to them, and they'll actually become uncomfortable if you try to 'improve' their situation, actually seeking the conditions they're adapted to.

      Ah, the social blank slate theory. It's rubbish you know. Just imagine: A kid hit in the head twice every day. Oh, they'll think that's normal, and they'll miss getting the pain to the noggin if you stop! The genetic program that designed their prime cognitive pathways has no effect on the pain reception and aggression circuits? You don't think once that kid's big enough they'll wallop whomever's trying to bash them in the skull? What kind of idiot are you? Tell me: Why don't we have to teach babies

      • If you're going to create extreme examples then of course you'll find a way to poke holes in what I'm saying, but that's not what this news story is about now is it? Nobody is hitting school kids in the head every day and telling them it's normal and right, they're monitoring them and surveilling them and if they ever wondered, they'd be told it's 'for their own safety' and 'we just care about you and don't want anything bad to happen to you' or whatever plausible phrases they need to tell them to make them
  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @02:14PM (#47026673) Homepage Journal

    Actually at least one has tried. A guy down in Nevada tried to find out what kind of info they're collecting on his kid.

    The silly bastards want to charge him $10,000 for the info. Supposedly it'll take 3 weeks of programming time to get the data out. []

  • The trend in education seems to be to create utilitarian, functional drones who are technically able to perform tasks (even complex ones like software development) but are devoid of any ability to think or create. The fact that society sees this as a good thing is frightening. The idea of a liberal education which causes growth and ability to think seems to be something of the past. It's like we're in a new industrial revolution. Schools used to turn out clock-disciplined people for factories, who had basic

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