Nancy Willard, Research Associate
Center for Advanced Technology in Education
University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon
Presentation for the Oregon Writing Conference, University of Oregon 1998
"Selling or providing access to a captive audience in the classroom for commercial
purposes is exploitation and a violation of public trust." - National Association
of State Boards of Education
As pressure on schools budgets and demand for investments in new technologies
increase, a new dot.com business model has emerged. This new model involves the
offer of "free" technology resources to schools supported by an online advertising
program that involves the collection of market-related personal information from
students (online profiling) and targeted marketing of students with banner ads
-- within the educational learning environment.
Many educators, parents, and
students are unaware of the extent to which dot.com companies can collect and
analyze personal information and use this analysis to present banner ads that
are targeted to the individual user's demographics and interests. Hungry for
the opportunity to provide Internet access and resources to students, schools
are accepting these "free" offers with inadequate analysis of the company's activities
and inadequate evaluation of the potential impact of students and the learning
environment. Schools have an obligation to protect the welfare of their students
and ensure the integrity of the learning environment. Allowing dot.com companies
to engage in online profiling and targeted marketing of students is exploitation
and a violation of public trust.
Educators must carefully analyze any partnerships
with dot.com companies to determine whether such partnerships are truly in the
best interests of their students and the school's learning environment. This document
seeks to provide assistance to educators in this analysis process. The document
provides a background on issues and concerns related to online profiling and
targeted marketing and a framework for educator analysis of the appropriateness
of proposed dot.com/dot.edu partnerships.
Will Internet in schools become the
"stealth portal" to the youth market?
In recent years there has been growing concern
about the rise of commercialism in schools. As school budgets shrink and financial
demands increase, Corporate America has found innovative approaches to get to
young consumers through the place that they spend a lot of their time -- in school.
Corporate strategies include: The offer of free satellite TV in exchange for 2
minutes a day of advertising for junk foods and hip youth consumer items; Cash
donations in exchange for an exclusive placement of COKE machines; and Free curriculum
materials provided by companies, such as environmental protection materials provided
by Exxon and nutrition materials provided by Burger King.
Proponents of advertising
argue that corporate involvement with schools is beneficial because it allows
schools to supplement dwindling resources. They argue that since ours is a consumer-driven
culture, a few advertisements in school are an acceptable trade-off. Opponents
counter that corporate attempts to use schools as a means to capture the youth
market is unacceptable and contrary to the school's obligation to act in the
best interests of its students.
In 1995, the Consumers Union published a report
entitled Captive Kids: A Report on Commercial Pressures on Kids at School(2). The
Consumers Union concluded, "commercialism in U.S. elementary and secondary schools
poses a significant and growing threat to the integrity of education in America."
One of the disturbing trends the report noted was "(p)ressure on school administrators,
teachers, and students to form partnerships with businesses that turn students
into a captive audience for commercial messages, often in exchange for some needed
Three principal forces were identified by the Consumers Union that
are converging to support the rise of commercialism in schools. These are:
- Chronic school budgetary problems
- The ever-growing presence of commercialism
in all sectors of society
- The growing competition among corporations for the
burgeoning "youth" market."
The recent explosion in the use of technology and
the Internet in America's schools introduced a new force that is strongly influencing
the rise of commercialism in schools: A dot.com business model where Internet
content and services are supported primarily by banner ads.
A new dot.com business
model is rapidly emerging that should cause every educator to consider the appropriate
level of corporate access to students in school. This new model involves the
offer of "free" technology resources to schools supported by an online advertising
program that involves the collection of market-related personal information from
students (on-line profiling) and targeted marketing of students with banner ads
-- within the educational learning environment. The technology resources provided
by such companies include: free or reduced prices for computer equipment for schools
or for families; district, school, or classroom web pages; educational portals
and search systems; online communications services. The educational learning environment
may be an environment that the student accesses from school and/or from home.
In addition to these formal dot.com/dot.edu partnerships, dot.com companies are
establishing sites that presumably are providing educational materials. Upon
closer analysis, the highly entertaining materials are often found to be biased,
promotional, and self-serving. Such sites may also ask students to provide personally
identifying information to enable the site to profile and target banner ads to
the student. Some educational web sites are also relying on corporate advertising
to support the development and maintenance of their site. Inappropriate advertising
and placement of ads in locations on the site where they will distract students
from concentrating on content are also issues of concern on these sites.
are some examples of companies that are providing free resources to schools in
exchange for the ability to profile and target market students:
brochure for educators states: "We'll give you a free computer lab for your classroom.
Here's the catch: You have to let your students use them." There are a few more
catches in the Zapme plan. Zapme develops online profiles of individual students
linked with the student user names. The profiles enable the company to target
their advertiser's banner ads to students with specific profiles. The Zapme Netspace
has a 2X4 inch banner ad window that presents multimedia ads to students at all
times they are using the computer, even when doing word processing. The ads change
every 15 seconds, thus exposing students to approximately 200 ads in a 50-minute
In contrast to the brochure for educators, here is how Zapme describes
the benefits of its program to potential sponsors: "Zapme is the ideal brand development
medium. No other online marketing vehicle offers the audience targeting and viewing
confirmation capabilities of the Zapme! network. The user interface and user registration
technologies of Zapme! not only guarantee that all messages will be viewed by
your specific target audience, they also enable micro targeting based on one or
more criteria, including age, gender, geography, area(s) of interest and time."
Zapme brochure for potential advertisers.
HiFusion is a company that has just launched
its activities. HiFusion will provide free dial-up Internet access for students
and parents and is inviting schools to establish HiFusion as the site of the school's
Online Learning Community. HiFusion engages in online profiling of students and
parents and will be presenting ads to students and parents when they are using
the site. HiFusion should receive credit for providing a completely honest and
"We may directly collect the following types of Personal
Information about Children: name, address, email address, parent's registration
information, birthdates, sex, grade level, school name, school location, screen
name permissions, parent's credit card information, computer/internet/videogame
use preferences and habits, information source and entertainment preferences,
household demographics, hobbies, interests, school studies, general preferences,
or such other data that may help us to better tailor our Services for each Member.
In addition, our servers may collect Personal Information indirectly and automatically
about Children's activities while using our Services, including internet sites
information will be used "for marketing directly to the Child."
A clash of two
worlds: dot.com and dot.edu
The dot.com world is an advertising-intense environment,
where a significant amount of content is supported by banner ads. But other worlds
exist on the Internet. The dot.edu world is a world of rich, high quality educational
resources and communication activities with an extremely limited amount of banner
advertising. Resources available in the dot.edu world have been created by education
institutions, informal science, art, and other enrichment centers, nonprofit
public interest organizations, government agencies, and enlightened corporations
that recognize the importance of supporting the education of our nation's children
without attempting to peddle products, services, or self-serving ideas.
companies believe that the profiling and advertising is simply the model by which
the Internet functions. They argue that online profiling and targeted marketing
allows them to provide services without costs to schools and thus the benefit
to students outweighs the concerns of invasion of privacy and intrusion of advertising
into the learning environment.
A closer analysis of the situation reveals additional
motives on the part of such companies:
"Where are all the Fortune 500 Companies
heading today? Back to school. Zapme! delivers the future. Children in grades
K-12 are arguably the toughest audience for marketers to reach, and quite possibly
the most valuable. Now there is a way to connect with this audience at the place
they spend a majority of their time. At school."(3)
"(W)e look for education to become
the "stealth" portal to over 65 million students and their 50 million parents."(4)
What is online profiling and targeted marketing?
Online profiling is the collection
of information from and about an individual as he or she uses the Internet.(5) Once
collected, the information provides a detailed profile of the individual's demographic
characteristics, interests, needs, and purchasing habits. This profile enables
advertising company computers to deliver banner ads that are targeted to the
individual's specific interests. The profile may contain personally identifiable
information, the individual's name and address, or may be linked with nonpersonally
identifiable information, such as a screen name or an identifier (a "cookie").
Cookies are tiny bits of code that are placed on an individual's hard drive by
the web site or a third party that is delivering ads to the web site. Cookies
are generally set without the knowledge of the user. Cookies act as identifiers
and also transmit data about the individual's actions on the Web. Additional information
may be collected for the profile directly from the individual through registration,
surveys, questionnaires, and purchases.
Here is an example of how profiling may
work in a school environment:
XYZ school has established an online learning environment
with ABC. Jordan, a student at XYZ school, must establish a user account on ABC's
web site using a user name (some sites require actual names) to be able to access
the learning activities required for his classes. In registering the account,
Jordan is asked to provide some basic demographic information, in-cluding his
age and gender. Jordan's user account forms his initial profile file on ABC's
site. To expand its knowledge of Jordan, ABC's computer tracks his activities
on its site, as well as his activities on the Internet. ABC frequently posts "Tell
us what you think" survey questions. Today's question, "What are your favorite
after-school activities?" is followed by a list of typical teen activities. Jordan
responds that his favorite activity is playing sports. This interest information
is recorded in his profile. The next time Jordan uses the computer to complete
his history assignment, he sees an ad for athletic shoes, which he is more inclined
to click on than an ad for a bookstore and finds more interested in than his history
assignment. ABC's computer records the fact that Jordan has clicked on this ad
and will be able to provide the athletic shoe company with data about students
who have clicked on their ad.
a recent Education Week article addressing the same topic as this report, a school
technology director who strongly supports HiFusion, which has a well-written
personal information from children is used for marketing directly to them, but
doesn't view it as a problem.(6) " Clearly, it is acceptable for educators to be
endorsing partnerships with dot.com companies if they do not have a complete
understanding of all of the ramifications of that relationship. The first place
of these policies are written with such "legalese" that the user would require
a law degree to truly understand the provisions. Other policies use euphemistic
language that does not provide clear information. For example, Zapme's privacy
policy reads, "We will use this information to ensure that our user's content
and sponsorship experiences are appropriate for them." What this language actually
means is, "We use this information to directly target ads to students based on
our knowledge of their demographics and interests."
Not all collection of information
is bad; Not all school-business partnerships are inappropriate
and targeted marketing should be distinguished from two other activities that
do not present concerns: The collection of aggregated data by web sites for evaluation
purposes; and The collection of personal information from students for the sole
purpose of providing an educational service.
All web sites collect data about
how their site is used, including quality educational sites. The data allows the
web site owner to evaluate how the site is being used so that the quality of the
site can be improved. Data is collected in an aggregated manner. Individual user
profiles are not created and the data is not used to support marketing.
providing communication services to schools require the provision of student
personal information, such as a requirement for the student's name for the purpose
of establishing a web-based e-mail account. As long as the use of student information
is limited to the educational service and parental consent is obtained, the provision
of such information should not present concerns.
Nothing in this report should
be considered criticism of enlightened companies that have taken a long-term perspective
of the importance of education of our nations youth and the role that technology
can play in this education. Such companies are generously providing resources
and support to assist schools in technology planning and implementation and in
the development of high quality educational resources on the Web. Examples of
this include: The AT&T Learning Network(7), which provides an excellent collection
of resources for educators; MCI's Marco Polo which provides standard-based instructional
content(8); the Intel-supported Students Recycling Used Technology Program(9) (STRUT)
which provides refurbished computers for schools and technical training for students;
and the CEO Forum on Education and Technology, an organization representing many
major technology companies that provides valuable resources for planning and implementing
technology in schools.(10)
How valid are the arguments in support of accepting
online profiling and targeted marketing of students in exchange for free technology
An analysis of statements by corporate executives of the dot.com companies
approaching the dot.edu community, as well as statements by educators who have
entered into dot.com/dot.edu partnerships reveals four frequently raised arguments
in support of the appropriateness of these partnerships. None of these arguments
Argument 1: We protect student privacy because we do not ask
for the student's actual name. We use only user names -- pseudonyms.
is a misleading, deceptive "red herring." Dot.com companies do not need the student's
actual name to develop an online profile and use that profile to target advertisements
to individual students. All they need is a persistent identifier. The student's
user name serves as that persistent identifier.
Argument 2: Internet content is
supported primarily by banner advertising, therefore, students are already exposed
to lots of banner ads whenever they use the Internet. The additional exposure
to banner ads from the dot.com partner simply allows us to receive additional
The vast majority of high quality educational sites do not have banner
ads. Look at the entries of any quality educational portal and this asserting
will be clearly demonstrated. This example, provided by the Mid-continent Research
for Education and Learning, demonstrates the approach taken by developers of
"We are currently reviewing all the sites to which our sites
link; the criteria for this review requires us to determine whether or not there
is advertising on the site and if so, whether it is distracting. We reject sites
that contain advertising we deem to be distracting. If the advertising is minimal
and does not distract the user, then it is not rejected on the basis of advertising.
When we finish the review of all the sites, I suspect we will revisit the sites
with minimal advertising to consider whether, given the number of quality sites
without advertising available to us, we need to include those sites with advertising.(11)"
If students are being exposed to a great deal of banner advertising in school,
they are likely not using the Internet in ways that are supporting their learning.
A recent study evaluated sites that students accessed in school for their suitability
for academic research and found that only 27% of the sites students accessed
were considered to reliable sources of information.(12) The sites visited most frequently,
commercial sites, were rated as having the lowest educational value.
quality educational web sites have a limited amount of banner advertising. These
sites are sensitive in the selection of only educationally-appropriate ads, not
ads for consumer youth products. Further, the ads do not contain a significant
amount of distracting animation and are not placed in locations on the site where
they might distract students from focusing on the content. There is a need for
greater funding and alternative funding mechanisms for the creation and support
of good quality educational sites to enable quality sites to exist without the
need to rely on banner advertising.
A school endorsement of a dot.com partner's
web site also acts as an endorsement of the presence of banner advertising in
the educational environment. Additionally, the school's endorsement serves as
an implied endorsement of the products or services advertised to the children
through the dot.com partner's site.
Argument 3: Banner ads are not distracting
or intrusive. Students are experts at multitasking and can easily filter out the
The sole mission in life of a banner ad is to attract attention to itself.
Research in human-computer interface research verifies that animated banner ads
are intrusive and distract users from the content. "Ad agencies aren't stupid
. . . they know that adding motion and flashing to a web page is a sure-fire way
to attract attention. And it's true -- adding animation is a powerful way to catch
a reader's eye. But beware that this can also work against you. Many users complain
that animation is too distracting, making it difficult to concentrate on the
content of the page."(13)
It is more than a little disingenuous for companies
whose business model is based on advertising income to claim that the ads are
not effective, especially when they are making the exact opposite claim to their
The purpose of doing online profiling is to enable the company to
target ads for products or services that are of interest to the user, thus raising
the distraction potential of the ad.
Schools should not be establishing study
environments that force children to expend mental energy to filter out the distractions
of banner ads6 when the students should be concentrating on the content of what
they are studying.
A market report on Zapme stated: "Based on our observations
and discussions with several schools, the ads are not intrusive. Moreover, we
must not forget that today's teenagers are expert at multitasking -- often listening
to music, watching TV and doing their homework at the same time."(14)
Not many educators
would recommend this kind of a study environment!
Argument 4: The dot.com partner
is providing access to a safe, filtered environment so our students are more
protected in their use of the Internet.
Argument 5: It is OK because we have parental consent.
But only by coercion. The "price" that students and their parents are being
expected to pay for involvement in or use of the school's technology learning
environment is the invasion of their personal privacy and the distraction and
manipulation of advertising.
And generally without full disclosure. Too frequently,
school administrators approve dot.com/dot.edu partnerships without a full and
complete understanding of the level of corporate access they are providing to
their students. Parents trust school administrators to act in the best interests
of their children. Many parents will approve their child's participation based
solely on the endorsement of the dot.com company by the school. When administrators
enter into partnerships with dot.com companies without a full and complete understanding
of the facts and without providing full and complete information to parents, they
are failing in their fiduciary duty to protect their students.
Who *really* wins
in the online profiling and targeted marketing game?
Dot.com companies argue
that it is a wonderful benefit for them to develop individualized market profiles
containing a vast array of personal information so they can do a better job of
providing individuals with advertisements for products and services that they
are likely to be interested in.(15) However, there is widespread and growing concern
about current online profiling practices. The principal concerns are that much
of the collection is without the individual's knowledge or consent and the use
and dissemination of the information is beyond the individual's control.
Business Week/Harris Poll on online privacy found that 89% of consumers are not
comfortable having their browsing habits and shopping patterns merged into a profile
that is linked to their real name and identity.(16) Sixty-three percent are not comfortable
having their online movements tracked even if the data is not linked with their
It is unlikely that adult concerns about privacy are going to diminish.
Many adults are still unaware that such profiling is occurring. Only 40% of those
surveyed in the BW/Harris Poll had even heard of cookies and only 75% of those
knew what they were. Further, concerns about privacy reflected in annual BW/Harris
Polls have been growing, not diminishing, in recent years.
BW/Harris Poll did not ask how comfortable parents are about having the interests
and browsing habits of their children collected and used for targeted marketing
to their children. But the response would not be hard to predict.
Why are dot.com
companies so interested in kids? And why is this not OK?
It is clearly in the
interests of the dot-com companies to raise a new generation of online consumers
who do not have any "old fashioned" beliefs about the need for personal privacy.
Clearly, the future of e-commerce is in school today.
The Washington Post recently
reported, "With the number of children in America larger than at the peak of the
baby boom, and their purchasing power growing faster than economists can measure
it, a vast service industry of market researchers, public relations firms, newsletters,
and ad agencies has spring up to lead corporate America to young hearts, minds
and piggy banks."(17) A popular trade publication, Selling to Kids, noted that because
children are "the generation that spends the most time glued to a computer monitor,
online marketing is going to be more important for this group than any previous.(18)
" The National Institute on Media and the Family recently reported:
spending or influencing $500 billion worth of purchases, marketing techniques
have been turned upside-down. In the past, the most effective way to sell children's
products was through Mom and Dad. Not the opposite is true: children are the focal-point
for intense advertising pressure seeking to influence billions of dollars in
family spending. Advertisers are aware that children influence the purchase of
not just kid's products, but everything in the household from cars to toothpaste.
With children's increasing access to new communication technologies being paired
with the fast pace and busy schedules of today's families, parents are less able
to filter out the messages from the advertising world."
Advertising agencies are
utilizing the services of child psychologists and anthropologists to enable companies
to better understand children's behavior when using the Internet. Advertisers
have found that the Internet is a perfect vehicle for advertising to children.
"There is nothing else that exists like it for advertisers to build relationships
Recently, a group of psychologists called upon the American Psychological
Association to address concerns about "the sale of psychological expertise to
advertisers to manipulate children for commercial gain."(20) The letter noted, "The
use of psychological insight to bypass parents and influence the behavior and
desires of children is a crisis for the profession of psychology."
for Media Education, a Washington DC watchgroup has been tracking the activities
of the new children's digital media culture. Their assessment is; "With their
engaging, interactive properties, the new digital media are likely to have a
more profound impact on how children grow and learn, what they value, and who
they become, than any medium that has come before."(21)
A recent survey conducted
by the Annenburg Public Policy Center revealed that many children think that
it is OK to provide sensitive family information to commercial sites on the Web
when enticed with the offer of a gift.(22) The vast majority of parents reported
that they were concerned that their children would provide personal information
while using the Internet. The Annenburg study concluded:
"For media and marketers,
information about teens is an increasingly valuable commodity. For logical business
reasons they will pursue knowledge about youngsters and their families as aggressively
The task for a civic society is to set up a counter balance their
efforts that establishes norms about what is ethically and legally correct for
media and marketers to do." (p. 34)
The report noted that "parents cannot develop
norms about family privacy alone" because "they simply do not know enough about
the Web to be aware of the way Web sites gather information and what to do about
it." (p. 35) Schools and other community groups were encouraged to contribute
to the effort to teach children and parents about information privacy on the Internet.
It is impossible for schools to teach children about the importance of protecting
their personal privacy on the Internet, when schools are entering partnerships
that require students to agree to the collection of personal information as a
condition for use of the technology resources.
The following are the most important
paragraphs in this report!
Dot.com companies have an advantage in reaching children.
The emergence of an understanding of the appropriate boundaries of personal
privacy is clearly a developmental process, tied to the child's emerging cognitive
development. Technically proficient children are using the Internet before they
have the cognitive ability to appreciate the possible consequences of disclosure
of personal information. Dot.com companies can use this to their advantage in
seeking to mold the children's perceptions about personal privacy. They are able
to accomplish this largely outside of parental influence because most parents
do not know about the actions and intentions of these companies.
are asking children to disclose personal information and then using that information
to develop a close relationship with the child for the purpose of influencing
consumer behavior. Such companies are working with child psychologists to gain
better insight into the thinking of children to improve their ability to manipulate
the child for commercial purposes. This is commercial exploitation. But the potential
of injury to children from this kind of exploitation may be greater than simply
damage to the pocketbook of the child or parent. Children raised in such an environment
will likely fail to develop an understanding of the appropriate boundaries of
personal privacy. They will be extremely vulnerable to all manner of manipulation
and exploitation, not only from corporate marketers, but also from scam artists,
cults, and sexual predators. Essentially, stripped of its purpose, there is no
difference between the strategy followed by the dot.com companies and that of
There ought to be a law . . . !
Unfortunately, there are no
laws, policies, or regulations that specifically address the concerns presented
in this report. Nevertheless, school administrators must engage in a careful thorough
analysis of the appropriateness of any involvement with dot.com companies. Guidance
in conducting this analysis can be found from a variety of sources.
States have a constitutional obligation to provide a free, public education.
Increasingly, schools have determined that access to educational and communications
resources on the Internet are an important component of the educational preparation
of children for the 21st century. In light of its constitutional obligations,
schools should consider whether it is ethical -- or legal -- to establish a technology-based
learning environment that will require students to consent to the collection of
their personal private information by a third-party commercial company as a condition
for participate in the program.
Schools also have responsibilities grounded in the compulsory attendance laws of the state. As noted in the following section, educators have an obligation to protect the welfare of their stu-dents. Entering into a relationship with company whereby the school receives a benefit in exchange for allowing the invasion of student privacy and presence of advertising in the learning environment is exploitation, not protection.
Education Policies on Commercialism in Schools
In 1998, National Association of State Boards of Education conducted an analysis
of issues of commercialism in schools. The membership approved a set of principles
to guide state boards in the development of policy regarding corporate involvement
in schools. The principles relevant to the present discussion are:
Involvement in Schools School-business relationships based on sound principles
can contribute to high quality education. However, compulsory attendance confers
on educators an obligation to protect the welfare of their students and the integrity
of the learning environment. Therefore, when working together schools and businesses
must ensure that educational values are not distorted in the process. Positive
school-business relationships should be ethical and structured in accordance with
the following principles:
Corporate involvement shall not require stu-dents
to observe, listen to, or read commercial advertising.
Selling or providing
access to a captive audience in the classroom for commercial purposes is exploitation
and a violation of public trust.
It is readily apparent that a district/school
that has established policies in accord with the principles approved by NASBE
would not approve a partnership with a dot.com company that involves accepting
technology resources in exchange for access to captive students for online profiling
and targeted marketing.
Federal Policy on the Protection of Human Subjects
law for the protection of human subjects in the context of academic research can
provide schools with guidance on standards that are considered necessary to protect
the welfare of research subjects.(23) While these rules do not cover research conducted
by private corporations, the standards do provide a benchmark for determining
protections that are necessary for the welfare of students. The requirements under the law are as follows:
Dot.com companies gathering market research data from children are collection information to enable them to do a better job of enticing chil-dren to nag their parents to purchase products. This is not a social benefit. It is important to note that the research activities themselves must be socially beneficial. Receiving free technology resources in exchange for providing information would not meet this standard. Collection of student information by commercial companies solely for the purposes of accomplishing the educational objectives of the site and not for consumer market research presumably would meet the social benefit standard.
School districts must have full and complete information about the activities of the company, including information that addresses privacy concerns and any other potential risks to the students. Some companies are up-front and clear about their actions. Unfortunately others use euphemistic language that fails to provide clear information. For example, a statement such as "we use this information to ensure our user's sponsorship experiences are appropriate for them" actually means that the company is en-gaged in targeted advertising based on the pro-files they have developed.
Any potential agreement with a company should be reviewed by an individual who understands in online privacy protection issues.
Parental notification and consent to information collection is imperative.
Web sites collecting data from users
to evaluate and improve the educational quality of the site would appear to meet
this criteria. Further, such research would meet the social benefit require-ment
Family Education Rights and Privacy Act
Any provision of personal
information of students by the school must be in compliance with the Family Educational
Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA would clearly require parental consent
before the school could provide students' personally identifiable information
to a third party. In accord with the spirit, but not the actual language, of FERPA
schools should also provide disclosure and obtain parental consent before allowing
or encouraging students to provide personally identifiable information on a web
site while at school.
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act
Schools also must
be aware of how they might be impacted by the Children's Online Privacy Protection
Act of 1999 (COPPA).(24) COPPA, effective April 21, 2000, applies to the online collection
of personal information by commercial web sites from children under 13. The new
and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent and what responsibilities an
operator has to protect children's privacy and safety online. COPPA applies to
individually identifiable information about a child that is collected online,
such as full name, home address, email address, telephone number or any other
information that would allow someone to identify or contact the child. COPPA also
covers other types of information -- for example, hobbies, interests and information
collected through cookies or other types of tracking mechanisms -- when they are
tied to individually identifiable information.
Several companies responding to
the request for comments by the Federal Trade Commission argued that schools ought
to be able to obtain blanket permission from parents that would enable individual
teachers to allow students to provide personal information on commercial web sites.
This practice would be ill-advised for several reasons:
The vast majority of
commercial sites are not suitable educational resources.
The fact that a commercial
site, especially one with banner advertising, is requesting personal information
from a child is a strong indicator that the site will be engaged in online profiling
of that child. Schools should be teaching in-formation privacy, not encouraging
Schools do not request blanket permission from parents
to allow academic researchers who are collecting socially beneficial research
and who have developed a detailed plan to protect the rights students. There is
absolutely no rationale to justify a lower level of parental involvement when
the issue involves corporations collecting market research from children.
are commercial sites that have a legitimate educational purpose and meet an identified
educational need for schools. Prior to approving any involvement with such sites,
schools should analyze the privacy provisions of such sites to determine that
the provision of personal information by students is solely for the purpose of
using the educational services on the site, such as establishing an e-mail account,
and that no online profiling for advertising purposes will occur. After this
analysis is conducted, parents should be fully informed and their consent should
be required before any student provides personal information.
Recommended Principles for a School Policy on Commercialism on the Internet
Providing access to a captive
audience in the school's technology learning environment, whether accessed in
school or from home, for commercial purposes, including specifically online profiling
and/or advertising, is exploitation and a violation of public trust.
students to subject themselves to online profiling and advertising as a condition
for participation in a school's technology learning environment is exploitation
and a violation the right of students to a free and public education.
Students should generally not be permitted to provide personally identifiable information, such as name, address or other contact infor-mation, on the Internet. There may be occa-sions where the provision of information can be justified as serving an educational purpose.
The collection of anonymous data from stu-dents using
a web site for the purposes of evaluation and improvement of the educa-tional
quality of a web site is considered appropriate and acceptable.
In any case
where a school/teacher desires to use the services of a web site and such services
require the disclosure of personally identifiable information or the establishment
of a student account, the school/teacher must provide a written request for approval
from the district. The following standards should apply:
Educational mission and purpose. The site or service must be providing an educational service that meets an identified educational need. There should no targeted advertising and no advertising for youth consumer items on the site. Non-distracting, educationally appropriate sponsorship notices that are located on "pass-through" locations, such as portals or home pages, are acceptable.
Limited provision of student information for educational purposes only. The site should request the minimum amount of student information necessary to accom-plish the educational objectives of the site. Information should not be collected for the purposes of developing a consumer profile or directing advertising. Disclosure of stu-dent information to third parties should be strictly prohibited. The site should indem-nify the district for any violations of con-fidentiality protections that result in the disclosure of student information.
Asking the following questions will assist in gaining the information necessary to conduct a knowledgeable analysis of the site or service.
What is the educational purpose of the use of the site?
How does the use of this
site meet an identified educational need?
What information will be collected directly
or indirectly from the student as they use the site?
What is the purpose of the
collection of information?
Does the site have any banner ads? If so, what is
the relationship of the collection of data to the presence of banner advertising?
Does anyone else, other than the site, have the ability to collect information
directly or indirectly from the student? If so, who and for what purpose?
student's personal information be disseminated to any other party? If so, under
what conditions and for what purposes?
What security provisions have been established
to ensure the confidentiality of student's personal information?
have been made for the students and/or their parents to review and delete personal
information from the company's files?
are selecting sites for student research, the sites should first be analyzed
for the quality, appropriateness, and suitability of the educational materials
present on the site. The site should also be reviewed for the presence of banner
ads. The following are questions and guidelines for an evaluation of the appropriateness
of the advertising on a site:
How intrusive and distracting are the banner ads
visually? Animation or other forms of movement are highly distracting to the
Are the ads placed in locations where the students should be concentrating
on the content of what they are studying? Students should not be required to
expend mental energy to filter out ads. Ads are to be expected on search portals
and news sites. Ads may be considered acceptable if they appear only on home pages
of otherwise good quality educational sites.
Are the ads for youth consumer items
or are they public service announcements/educational products or services?
students click on the banner ads, is what is presented to them considered appropriate
in the educational environment?
Is advertising the vehicle to support the delivery
of high quality educational resource or has the educational resource been established
for the purpose of advertising, brand promotion, or corporate promotion?
What is the educational quality
of the proposed technology resource?
How the proposed technology resource will
assist the school in achieving a stated educational objective?
How will the school
provide for the additional resources or activities, including professional development,
necessary to ensure the appropriate and effective use of the proposed technology
resource to improve student learning?
What impacts will the proposed technology
resource have on the existing and future technol-ogy infrastructure of the district
What impacts will the proposed technology resource be on the reputation
of the district/school regarding the provision of high quality educational services
Must-Read Reports for Education Decision-makers
(1995). Captive Kids: A Report on Commercial Pressures on Kids at School. http://www.consumersunion.org/other/captivekids/index.htm.
Federal Trade Commission, Online Profiling: A Re-port to Congress,
June 2000. http://www.ftc.gov/os/2000/06/onlineprofilingreportjune2000.pdf.
K.C. (forthcoming). Digital Kids: The New Online Children's Consumer Culture.
Montgomery, K.C. (1996) "Web of Deception: Threats to Children
from Online Marketing. http://www.cme.org/children/marketing/deception.pdf.
J. (2000, May 16). The Internet and The Family 2000. http://appcpenn.org/finalrepor_fam.pdf.
Center for Commercial Free Education. http://www.commercialfree.org.
Center for Media Education http://www.cme.org
Commercial Alert http://www.essential.org/alert
Federal Trade Commission Privacy Initiatives http://www.ftc.gov/privacy/index.html
Kids Privacy http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/kidzprivacy/index.html
Responsible Netizen is a new initiative of the Center for Advanced Technology
in Education (CATE), University of Oregon College of Education. Responsible Netizen
will develop effective strategies to assist young people in gaining the knowledge,
decision-making skills, motivation, and self-control to behave in a safe, responsible,
legal, and ethical manner when using the Internet and other information technologies
and disseminate these strategies to schools, libraries, parents, policy-makers,
and others. http://netizen.uoregon.edu.
About the author: Nancy Willard has a
BS in Elementary Education, a MS in Special Education, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence.
She has taught children with behavior difficulties and has practiced law in areas
of computer law and copyright. In 1995, Willard published Legal and Ethical Issues
Related to K-12 Internet Use Policies, which has become a widely recognized resource
for educators. Willard has also assisted many districts in the State of Oregon
develop their district technology plans. In 1999, Willard became associated with
the Center for Advanced Technology in Education. She has received 2 NSF grants.
One to investigate how high school students make decisions about ethical use
of the Internet and the other to coordinate a workshop with other researchers
and practitioners to develop a recommended research agenda around issues of the
so-cial dimensions of the use of interactive technologies by young people. Willard
is the mother three children.
© 2000 Center for Advanced Technology in Education.
Permission to reproduce and distribute for non-profit purposes is not only allowed, it is encouraged.
(1)The title for this report was inspired by a statement in a 12/08/00 WitCapital report on Zapme. The precise quote was "(W)e expect Zapme will attract additional e-commerce partners looking to capture the 'eyeballs' and 'e-wallets' of a captive and attractive demographic." http://www.witcapital.com/research/researchbody.jsp?report=izap_19991208
(2)Consumers Union (1995). Captive Kids: A Report on Commercial Pressures on Kids at School. http://www.consumersunion.org/other/captivekids/index.htm
(3)Zapme Corporate Brochure for potential advertisers for its school-based network.
(4)Thomas Weisel Partners (an investment company) report entitled e-education: ".com Meets .edu." http://www.tweisel.com/client/index.html
(5)Federal Trade Commission, Online Profiling: A Report to Congress, June 2000 http://www.ftc.gov/os/2000/06/onlinepofilingreportjune2000.pdf
(6)Zehr, M. A. Web sites worry privacy watchdogs. Education Week, Vol. 19, number 41, p 1, 20-21. http://www.edweek.com/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=41privacy.h19
(11)(personal communication John Kendall, MCREL 06/12/00)
(12)Ebersole, S., Adolescents' Use of the World-Wide Web in Ten Public Schools: A Uses and Gratifications Approach. 1999 (doctorial dissertation) http://faculty.uscolo.edu/ebersole/diss/pdf_docs.html
(13)J. Niederst, Web Design in a Nutshell. Sebastol, Ca: O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. 1999. p. 322.
(14)WitCapital report, IZAP: Broadband Tools for America's Schools, 11/23/99. http://www.witcapital.com/research/researchbody.jsp?Report=izap_19991123
(15)Federal Trade Commission, Online Profiling: A Report to Congress, June 2000 http://www.ftc.gov/os/2000/06/onlineprofilingreportjune2000.pdf. p.8
(16)Business Week/Harris Poll: A Growing Threat, Business Week, March 20, 2000. http://www.businessweek.com/2000/00_12/b3673010.htm?scriptFramed.
(17)Russakoff, D. (1999, April 19). Marketers Following Youth Trends to the Bank. The Washington Post.
(18)Stark, M. (1999, March 3). Savvy Gen-Y-ers: Challenge, Involve Them. Selling to Kids, 4 (4), p. 3.
(19)Gruen, E. (1995, October 25). Defining the Digital Consumer IV Agenda; Digital Kids Pre Conference Seminal. New York. NY.
(20)Letter to Richard Suinn, President of the APA, 09/20/99. http://www.essential.org/alert/psychology/applet.html.
(21)Montgomery, K. C. (forthcoming). Digital Kids: The New Online Childern's Consumer Culture. http://www.cme.org.
(22)Turow, J. (2000, May 16). The Internet and The Family 2000 http://appcpenn.org/finalrepor_fam.pdf.
(23)45 CFR part 46
(24)16 CFR part 312
(25)The provision by a student of his or her name and address to a university to receive information materials or to a company when seeking interneship opportunity are examples of legitimate educational purposes.