The Differences Between Student Safety and Student Privacy

As I mentioned in my last post, often the terms “privacy” and “safety” become interchanged. Now that we’ve better defined privacy, let’s move on to the topic of student safety.

A big misconception around safety is to confuse it with security. A secure system isn’t necessarily a safe one for students to use. While no software, app or website can completely ensure against hacking, most of them should provide sufficient security to protect your data. A review of a company’s security policy should satisfy that requirement.

But the security of data doesn’t necessarily keep students safe from outside predators or individuals; in fact, it often creates a false sense of safety. In all of products that you use―especially the free ones―how easy was it for you to sign up for access? What verification was needed for you and your students to sign up? The easier it is for you to register, the easier it is for a predator or another outsider to impersonate an educator.

Just because something is marketed as “kid-safe” has never meant it assured the safety of students. You can go back a few years to when the federal government fined Skid-e-Kids for collecting personal information from thousands of children without obtaining prior parental consent.

Look closely at the privacy and security policies of any vendor rather than quickly clicking an “I accept” checkbox. Go a step further and do a quick search to see if there have been complaints issued. The Center for Digital Democracy is a good website to follow to see initiatives around marketing to children.

Another common misconception is that all users should be required to use their real names to prevent student situations from occurring. After five years in educational technology, I’ve seen the largest percentage of harmful communication―bullying, self harm, sex, alcohol and drugs―come from students who are easily identifiable. In fact many of our self-harm interventions result from a student knowing that they will be identified.

For software, an app or a website to be safe, it must offer the ability to monitor and review content; but these tools need to be used. Gaggle created Gaggle Safety Management after seeing that over 50% of blocked messages were never reviewed.

Safe is a relative term that has concrete meaning to you and your students. In choosing software, apps or websites, consider all of the ways to make your students safe, providing educators the ability for teaching moments that can promote digital citizenship.