Saturday, June 8, 2013

Parents call for ban on web data mining

Call for stricter legislation to protect student privacy: Peter Garrigan, ACSSOPresident.

Call for stricter legislation to protect student privacy: Peter Garrigan, ACSSO President.

Four out of five parents want the government to ban internet firms such as Google from tracking their child's school email and web browsing to target advertising.

Schools across the state are increasingly using free web-based email accounts for their students to save money and provide ''any time, anywhere'' access to email and school resources. All NSW state school students have had a free email account hosted by Google since 2008.

However there is no law preventing companies from making money by tracking school students' web behaviour to target ads. The federal and state attorneys-general appear to be buck-passing on this issue, with both claiming to Fairfax Media that they did not have the jurisdictional power to act.

Schools and parents need more help to deal with online risks: MP Paul Fletcher.

Schools and parents need more help to deal with online risks: MP Paul Fletcher. Photo: Anthony Johnson

An Australian Council of State School Organisations survey of 1000 parents of school-age children found few were aware that companies such as Google and Yahoo could track their children's email and internet activity for commercial purposes. Once informed, 93 per cent said they would be concerned if this was happening to their child, and 80 per cent said the practice should be outlawed.

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"The risk is your child's personal information is being left open to the world," ACSSO president Peter Garrigan said. "In the interests of ensuring the security, privacy and protection of young people we need to have strong legislation in place to protect student privacy."

Mr Garrigan said most parents did not realise their own free email accounts were being data mined for advertising purposes, let alone the potential for their child's school account to so accessed. ACSSO has drawn up a petition to pressure governments and schools to protect students' online privacy, and is lobbying state and federal politicians to act.

Eighty per cent of parents surveyed said it was the school's responsibility to ensure their child's privacy was protected when they are using internet services. Parents want school contracts with internet companies to forbid the capture of student emails and web browsing. They also want to be able to opt out of having their child's web behaviour tracked.

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education and Communities said its contract with Google ensured students' private details were protected. "The only information that will be shared with Google will be the departmental user ID of participating students and staff, which includes no personal information," the spokesman said.

Later this year Google Apps will be rolled out to NSW schools, enabling students to collaborate on presentations and build websites their friends and family can view at home.

A spokeswoman for federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said it was not within the federal government's jurisdiction to ban cloud computing firms from data mining school students' online activity. She said privacy issues for NSW public schools were covered by state not federal law. However it is understood the NSW Attorney-General's department does not believe it has the power to act on this issue.

Liberal MP Paul Fletcher, who heads the Coalition's Online Safety Working Group, said it was ''premature'' to talk about banning the likes of Google from data mining school email accounts, but he said it was an issue the Coalition's proposed e-safety commissioner would have a ''significant'' role in.

''A lot more work needs to be done to help parents and schools respond to the risks online,'' he said. ''There are questions about where you should draw a line [on data mining].''


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