Educational Malware App “Along”

The nonfree “education” app Along, developed by a company controlled by Zuckerberg, encourages students to use it for private conversations with their teachers. Some of the personal data it collects is very sensitive. The company grants itself the power to sell “anonymized” data from which, in spite of “anonymization,” it will be possible to identify many of the students, perhaps most. In fact, research shows that in most cases anonymization can be easily undone and data tracked back to identify individuals uniquely.

“Computer scientists have recently undermined our faith in the privacyprotecting power of anonymization, the name for techniques that protect the privacy of individuals in large databases by deleting information like names and social security numbers. These scientists have demonstrated that they can often ‘reidentify’ or ‘deanonymize’ individuals hidden in anonymized data with astonishing ease.” —From Broken Promises of Privacy: Responding to the Surprising Failure of Anonymization, by Prof. Paul Ohm. UCLA Law Review, 2010. 57, 1701-1777.

Ohm's paper provides examples of how computer scientists were able to identify people from supposedly anonymized databases, while suggesting that the existing privacy legislation is unsuitable to properly protect collected data. We hold that data should not be collected in the first place and, above all, education should not marketized.

The Along app invites teachers to record personal questions on video and ask the student to respond with an audio or video recording. Through this process, the app systematically guides teachers to ask students about matters of interest for Facebook and other profilers that would be willing to buy the resulting data.

Leading students to “open up” to teachers about things unrelated to school activities may mean putting them in danger, because parents and school administrators also are allowed to see students' replies, as well as teachers themselves. This becomes more ominous in the light of repressive laws in some US states. If a student in Texas tells the school, “I am taking a puberty blocker” or “I'm so glad mom gave me money to travel to New Mexico for an abortion,” an administrator or a teacher who hears this could sue the parents or try to get the state to take their children away. They may even be legally required to do so.

The risk also exists that some students will be punished by their parents for things they revealed during the interview.

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