Surveillance software is outing students
Getting your kid ready to go back to school in the US? Well, you’re going to need all the essentials then: a bulletproof backpack and a school-issued tablet or laptop, pre-programmed with creepy spyware. During the pandemic, remote schooling led to a boom in surveillance software which let teachers monitor everything kids were doing on school-issued devices. Now that in-person teaching has resumed, however, the electronic monitoring hasn’t stopped. Rather, it has increased. According to a new report from the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), 89% of teachers have said that their schools will continue using student-monitoring software, up 5% from last year.
School surveillance software is marketed as a way to protect kids and keep them safe. There are various tools out there, but they all make much the same promises about leveraging AI-powered insights to prevent things like self-harm, bullying and school violence. While that all sounds very noble, digital rights experts are concerned that the software, which often continues to run outside school hours, works to punish students rather than protect them. According to the CDT report, “discipline appears to be the predominant intended purpose” of the software and 44% of teachers report that student activity monitoring has led to students being contacted by law enforcement. “Schools have institutionalized and routinized law enforcement’s access to students’ information,” a representative from the CDT told Wired. More specifically, they have institutionalized law enforcement’s access to marginalized students’ information: research shows that low-income students and students of color are more likely to use school-provided devices.
The fact that school-issued technology has basically turned into spyware is particularly disturbing as a number of states are trying to criminalize access to abortions. What happens, for example, if someone in a state like Texas were to search for abortion services on their school-issued laptop? Would the police be alerted?
The rights and privacy of LGBTQ+ students is also another obvious concern. Research has also found that digital surveillance programs like Gaggle, which monitors millions of students, are inappropriately flagging LGBTQ+ content as “pornographic” and reporting incidences of students who use sexuality-related terms such as “gay” and “lesbian”. Gaggle has said that this is for the benefit of LGBTQ+ students, in order to prevent bullying and harassment. However, there have been several reported incidents where the software has outed children to their parents without their knowledge or consent. According to the CDT, 13% of students reported that they, or someone they knew, had had their gender identity or sexual orientation outed by student activity monitoring software.
As well as being a privacy nightmare, there are also opportunity costs associated with this software. School districts are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for highly problematic monitoring technology while 94% of teachers are forced to buy school supplies out of their own pockets. As the ACLU’s advocacy and policy counsel, Chad Marlow, told Gizmodo, every dollar that is spent on monitoring software is a dollar that isn’t being spent paying for mental health professionals or teachers. “They [schools] are forgoing opportunities to bring in real help that will actually reduce violence, help kids feel more protected, and will help kids get the resources they need.” Ultimately the boom in student monitoring software is a depressing reminder of how little society values teachers and how much it fetishizes technology. You don’t need fancy AI-powered software to figure out if a kid is having a hard time or exhibiting problematic behaviour. That’s what teachers are for. That’s what school guidance counselors are for. How about we try funding educators for a change, instead of handing over desperately limited funds to tech bros?
Data brokers know when you’re pregnant, and they’re not keeping it a secret
Staying on the subject of “we live in a dystopian digital hellscape”: a Gizmodo investigation identified 32 data brokers selling access to the unique mobile IDs of people pegged as “actively pregnant” or “shopping for maternity products”. At least one company was also offering access to a catalog of people using the same kinds of emergency contraceptives that some Republicans want to outlaw or restrict.
TikTokers are encouraging women to use their vaginal fluids as perfume
It’s called “vabbing”, apparently. The idea is that vaginal fluids may contain pheromones which will cause everyone around you to find you irresistible. You’ll be shocked to hear that real scientists are not quite in agreement with the TikTok scientists about this.
Why do men’s paintings cost 10 times more than women’s?
Author Helen Gorrill studied the prices of 5,000 paintings sold all over the world and found that for every £1 a male artist earns for his work, a woman earns just 10p. “It’s the most shocking gender value gap that I’ve come across in any industry at all,” she said.
Balenciaga is trying to sell a $1,790 trash bag
We really, really need to tax the rich.
Kansas overwhelmingly rejects anti-abortion measure
“It was the first electoral test of support for abortion rights since the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade in June, and the results were unambiguous,” Moira Donegan writes. “Even in conservative Kansas, abortion rights are popular with most Americans.” But, she adds, you would never know that from the behavior of the Democrats who have “been allergic to full-throated defenses of reproductive rights and other so-called ‘culture war’ issues”.
Over 80 men accused of raping eight women appear in South African court
A truly awful story.
Malaysia court overturns landmark citizenship ruling for women
Last year the high court ruled that Malaysian women had the same right as men to confer citizenship on their children. Now that has been overturned.
Female journalist told skirt too short when reporting on Alabama execution
Ivana Hrynkiw was forced to swap her skirt for a pair of waterproof fisherman’s waders borrowed from a photographer in order to report on a man being pumped full of lethal drugs and executed by the state. Another female journalist was subjected to a full-body inspection where officials checked the length of her clothing.
The week in paw-triarchy
A Mississippi man said his pet cat, a rescue called Bandit, helped prevent real bandits from robbing him. The 20lb “guard cat” clawed him awake when she heard armed intruders trying to open a back door and thwarted the break-in. “I want to let people know that you not only save a life when you adopt a pet or rescue one,” Bandit’s human said. “The tides could be turned. You never know when you save an animal if they’re going to save you.”