kids on computers

Parents Successfully Push Maryland District To Delete Student Data Collected For Safety Purposes

Montgomery County parents were concerned that their children’s digital footprints could follow them into college and their careers.

Amid concerns that students’ personal data could be used against them in academic or professional settings, parents in a wealthy Maryland county have successfully pushed for their school district to delete the data collected on students once a year.

In Montgomery County, located in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the school district and the tech companies it works with have now agreed to delete data collected from students, according to The Guardian. The district participates in a yearly event officials call “Data Deletion Week,” where administrators begin the process of ensuring that student data is deleted by corporations and the district itself.

The tracking programs, run by Google and GoGuardian, aim to collect students’ web searches and internet activity and flag terms that may signal an intention to participate in violent behavior toward themselves or others.

Advocacy efforts for data deletion were fueled by a desire to shield students from being exploited or being held accountable for the mistakes they make while they are young, according to parents interviewed by The Guardian. One parent who advocated for Data Deletion Week was Bradley Shear, an attorney specializing in privacy policy whose young son was reprimanded for having Googled the song “F--k You” by CeeLo Green while on his school laptop.

After the incident, he contacted GoGuardian about having his son’s data deleted. From there, he decided to push the district to re-evaluate how companies retain student data and potentially sell it to third parties. Shear was also worried about the possibility that his son’s “de-identified” data could easily be retraced to him.

“Even when data is supposed to only be used for one purpose, it will be used for other purposes,” Shear said. “We don’t want any of this stuff hanging out and then being used against kids when they apply to college.”

Shear and other parents noted that students often accidentally search potentially worrying terms, such as a parent who said her son searched “save the land” while doing research for a project.

The search surfaced a page for the Ku Klux Klan, which her young child did not understand. Those website visits, made by accident, should not be part of a student’s digital record, the anonymous parent said.

Ellen Zavian, a law professor at George Washington University who was part of the advocacy effort, told the Guardian she wants her child to be able to pursue any path in life without worrying about what data has been collected on him since his early school days.

“If he wants to run for office, something he did in second grade shouldn’t hold him back,” Zavian said. “If he wants to apply for college, he should have no data that the colleges have bought that would provide a negative data point.”

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.