Friday, February 19, 2010

Technology Tip: Don't use school-issued laptops to spy on kids at home

First, from boingboing: School used student laptop webcams to spy on them at school and home
(pay special attention to the last paragraph.)

Next, from CBS: Suit: Schools Spied on Students Via Webcam

And also from
Suit claims school used webcams to spy on students at home

Now, from me:
For. The. Love. Is there some sort of megalomania screening tool we can use when hiring school administrators? Or really anyone? I've never really listened to any of the "nanny state" ranters, but things like this make it seem like those people make some sort of sense, and that's annoying.

The thing that I think I find most frustrating about this is that people will point to it as being an example of why "technology is bad" and how we should be wary when letting students use computers in school (or out)--a line of argument that shows a real lack of critical thinking (or basic literacy) skills on the part of the person making that argument. The technology didn't DO anything here; it was the PERSON using the technology that created was spying on students and their families and invading privacy.

Technology is neither good nor bad. It simply IS. Until we have fully sentient computers, you will not convince me that there is anything inherently "bad" or "wrong" about using technology. The bad things that happen are the direct results of the people using the machines, and they are the only responsible parties. Which is yet another reason why--rather than sticking our fingers in our ears and saying "lalalala-technology-is-bad-lalalalala" we need to educate students in how to be responsible, ethical, and adept users of technology.


  1. What's funny about this for me is that I had heard about this story, but hadn't read the article... I used to live in LMSD (the school district in question) that is going to be a huge issue.. lots of rich parents.. lots of attorneys.. it's going to be really ugly. That school district is supposed to be "one of the best/highest ranked in the country". Does that not worry anyone else?? BTW - nice seeing you the other day!

  2. I will agree with you in your concept that "there is nothing inherently 'bad' or 'wrong' about using technology," because, yeah, the technology itself has no ability to accept blame. But I do feel that the designers/creators of such technology bears some burden guilt for the sheer fact what other purpose could this technology be put to use but spying? I feel the same way about handguns: it has no other purpose but to kill; the fact that it can be a deterent had nothing to do with the design process.

    Now, if they could come up with some sort of technology that dispense morality, that would be cool. Then again, whose morality would it dispense....

  3. That anti-theft tracking technology sounds like it would be pretty handy for getting a stolen laptop back... and also completely unnecessary to activate on laptops issued to students. The creeps responsible should have set up the spy-cams at the meeting where it was decided that this was anything other than a horrible idea.

  4. It was great seeing you too, "Anonymous." I was going to say something about wondering how such an event would play out in a district without a lot of high-power, wealthy parents. . . and then realized it would probably be a non-issue, as students probably wouldn't even have access to the technology in the first place, sadly.

    And I agree that the intent behind the design and building of any technology matters; guns, bombs, and other weapons don't have any morality of their own, but they are clearly imbued with the morality of their makers. But there are some technologies that are designed to be "neutral" but get put to bad uses; I hear this argument about social networking all the time--some people have used it to harass or stalk, ergo social networking is bad. No, ergo people who use social networking sites to harass or stalk are doing something bad; the technology gave them the means, not the motivation.

    The whole remotely-activated camera thing weirds me out a little. I see its utility as a theft-recovery tool, but it seems poorly thought-out in that it is so easy to put it to bad use. And any evidence gathered by said cameras seems like it would be highly inadmissible in court. And there's no way it should be active on laptops issued to students--did the idiots responsible stop to think about what might happen if a student somehow gained access to this system (which is not exactly out of the realm of possibility)?

  5. I just wrote several ideas in a response, but then I realized they all pretty much equalled "agreed"... So.. ya, what you said. As more and more cyber schools pop up, I'll be interested to see what features they build in.. Anyway, back to work (aka fiddling around with google sites..)