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During the pandemic, many students were issued laptops and other devices by schools to facilitate remote learning. They weren’t told, however, that these devices would open a portal into their homes that could be monitored by schools at all times of the day. In the US and many other countries, schools can legally monitor students, often without disclosing what is being tracked. Gaggle is one company that monitors school-issued accounts and uses AI to track online behavior of students across services like email and chat tools. In 2020, the Minneapolis school district signed a contract with the company to monitor its students through 2023. School districts across the U.S. use Securly to monitor students in real time, looking for prohibited behaviors such as having too many browser tabs open. The software enables teachers to close tabs for any students they believe are “off task.” Philadelphia and Chicago schools deployed GoGuardian software on district-issued Chromebooks. A vulnerability in the software allowed teachers to start virtual sessions that enabled webcams on those Chromebooks without notification or consent by the student. Schools in China deploy technology to monitor attentiveness in students. An algorithm called 4 Little Trees is used in Hong Kong to detect students’ emotions as they learn—by monitoring their facial expressions with webcams. If the system detects a lack of focus, it nudges the student to pay attention.

School surveillance