Summit Learning is a digital learning platform that falls under the umbrella of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and as with many things linked to the founder of Facebook and Metaverse, you can expect that there will be some serious data harvesting and surveillance going on.
This was made pretty much explicit when Fox News did some sleuthing and discovered that the program allegedly recommended that schools monitor parents’ online activity—especially their public Facebook groups and critical comments. Summit Learning even provided detailed instructions for how schools could “listen to online conversations” involving parents; these instructions were shared in the program’s internal portal, which is not open to public access.
The Summit Learning platform is used by hundreds of schools around the country and was partly developed by Facebook engineers. It’s not the first time the platform has attracted negative scrutiny; parents with children enrolled in schools that participate in the program have frequently expressed concerns about data privacy and security.
In 2017, when Cheshire Public Schools in Connecticut became a part of the program, the opposition of parents was so fierce that the partnership was terminated. This was after the superintendent of Cheshire Public Schools admitted that the platform would be able to access a host of sensitive student data.
Meanwhile, The National Education Policy Center conducted research that determined Summit Learning’s school contract “presents a potentially significant risk to student privacy and opens the door to the exploitation of those data by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and possibly by unknown third parties—for purposes that have nothing to do with improving the quality of those students’ educations.”
Summit Learning disputes all of this, naturally, and told Fox News that these allegations were false. “Protecting student privacy is a top priority and something we take very seriously,” the organization said, adding that they “don’t sell or use personal information to make money” nor do they use student data “for anything other than educational purposes.”
“In certain cases, we may use de-identified information, (i.e. information that cannot be used to identify or contact an individual) to improve your experience on the Learning Services,” Summit Learning’s policy explains. But, in a weird development, Summit Learning apparently learned the wrong lesson from their experience with Cheshire Public Schools and The National Education Policy Center to advocate an “aggressive communications strategy” so as to obviate any further parent rebellions.
The platform advised schools to establish email notifications for certain keywords that combine Summit Learning and the school’s name, for instance. “Regular monitoring of your school’s social media accounts for comments and questions about Summit Learning is also critical,” the program also advised. It further suggested that schools should keep a lookout for social media posts from reporters who were looking to interview parents about Summit Learning.
Summit Learning, for its part, played down these measures, telling Fox News that “[t]he document you shared encourages School Leaders to pay attention to questions from their community so they can provide factual information and have open conversations about their vision for education.
“The claim that the program encourages educators to ‘spy’ is untrue. Connecting with parents on public social media outlets, paying attention to the local news, and having conversations with families are positive ways educators can understand, address and support the needs of their community.”
“We are committed to using information only for educational purposes, and we do not sell user data, including de-identified data,” they added. “We go above and beyond compliance and industry standards [to protect student privacy].”
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