Alexa and Threat to Privacy in Schools

Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, CHFI, CFE,

So you think that Alexa poses no threat to student and educator data privacy in the school system? Think again.

While Amazon has confirmed that “its Echo devices recorded a family’s conversation and then messaged it to a random family on the family’s contact list,” not much has been explored about possible threats to privacy in the public education system.

Use of Alexa and Echo.Dot in the Classroom

Did you know that educational technologists have been promoting the use of Alexa and Echo.Dot by teachers in the classroom since 2016? Echo.Dot allows students to utilize the system’s voice control feature to ask questions and receive answers in return. Some theorize that these innovations can improve instruction and student learning. Innocently, in February 2017, Dr. Bruce Ellis and Kate Morris promoted the classroom use of these tools in the following manners:

  • Probability Tool
  • Literacy Support
  • Social Studies Quizzes
  • Relaxation Ideas
  • Current Events
  • Read Audio Book
  • Practice Speaking
  • Journal Writing

Exploitation of Minors by Criminals

However, have we gone too far without proper controls? I am reminded of a presentation I gave before the Federal Information Systems Security Educators Association regarding the use by cybercriminals of toys (Hello Kitty, My Melody)  targeted toward toddlers, adolescents and teens for the gathering, exploitation and re-selling of family confidential data. See the presentation here. The Hello Kittty data hack disclosed the confidential data of 3.3 million users. The Wi-Fi Hello Barbie toy allowed hackers to listen to recorded messages, unbeknownst to the kids playing with the toy or their parents.

Risk Led to FBI Announcement

After the risk of hacking and the threat of cyber security became public, the FBI made an announcement alerting parents to the heightened cyber security threat embedded in common, every day toys.

One wonders if the risk associated with the unfettered use of educational technology tools in the public schools will result in similar scrutiny.

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Tonya J. Mead, CFE, CHFI, PI, MBA, MA, formerly a certified K-12 Administrator and School Psychologist is author of Fraud in Education: Beyond the Wrong Answer and president of Shared Knowledge, LLC If you like her work, please support her at Patreon.

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2 thoughts on “Alexa and Threat to Privacy in Schools”

  1. Thanks for your comments. I’m trying to determine whether to delete your comment, or to keep it live as I independently provide the financial support for this website’s maintenance, updates, hosting and security. And therefore, can use my first amendment rights to post what I please as long as I refrain from slander, defamation, etc. I aim higher, provide facts supported by evidence, and strive to write with good taste which may elude you.

    That said, it appears as though you are questioning my credentials. I was a certified school psychologist from 2004 to 2017 and k-12 regular administrator from 2009-2017. My aim is to present a balanced approach by providing facts so that parents may be informed about the dangers as well as the advantages to the uses of technology in schools. Here I do not advocate for returning to the “dark ages” however, I do believe that privacy protections are necessary, even for minors and k-12 students. Further, training in cyber ethics, cyber security, data analytics and data quality are vital should we continue to advance data-driven instruction, intervention and policies. I urge you to read my book, to read the full scope of my analysis. An entire chapter is devoted to technology. Without data integrity; data becomes mere noise and not information used to direct and guide positive right action. Thanks again for reading. Thanks for your comments. And, please visit again soon.

  2. Interesting article, Tonya. Though you cite yourself as a certified K-12 administrator, I don’t see any such job experience to serving that capacity when reviewing your LinkedIn profile. And, looking at the gist of your articles, there seems to be a theme of “alarmist” that arises. Don’t get me wrong, even though districts are required to have digital citizenship curriculum and training for teachers AND students, it’s never a bad idea to reinforce responsibility for using any technology whether a tool, as I mentioned, or as toys as you mentioned. Despite what either of us think about technology and it’s impact on society, it is hitting schools faster than most probably anticipated. Instead of promoting fear and avoidance of technology, it seems that we better serve our readers by sharing responsible use of technology. And, had you explored the samples I shared, you would have noticed that there was no student or teacher information collected or exchanged. I’ll be sharing more examples of how technology can enhance education in my webinar tomorrow, Internet of Things ….. It won’t be from a standpoint of the Internet is bad; it will be from a standpoint of using the Internet (of Things) as tools, using them responsibly, how to prepare students jobs in which IoT is part of their workforce, and even how it can be pulled in to make education that much better. I encourage you to consider talking with several responsible tech-using administrators and teachers in your area to find out how current technology is helping students overcome learning disabilities, preparing them to better compete in a global society, and possibly gain well-paying jobs that help break the chains of poverty.

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