Many Digital Divide ‘Solutions’ Make Privacy And Trust A Luxury Option

We’ve noted a few times how privacy is slowly but surely becoming a luxury good. Take low-cost cellular phones, for example. They may now be available for dirt cheap, but the devices are among the very first to treat consumer privacy and security as effectively unworthy of consideration at that price point. So at the same time we’re patting ourselves on the back for “bridging the digital divide,” we’re creating a new paradigm whereby privacy and security are something placed out of reach for those who can’t afford it.

A similar scenario is playing out on the borrowed school laptop front. Lower income students who need to borrow a school laptop to do their homework routinely find that bargain comes with some monumental trade offs; namely zero expectation of privacy. Many of the laptops being used by lower-income students come with Securly, student-monitoring software that lets teachers see a student’s laptop screen in real time and even close tabs if they discover a student is “off-task.”

But again, it creates a dichotomy between students with the money for a laptop (innately trusted) and lower income students who are inherently tracked and surveilled:

“Hootman says she and other parents wouldn’t have chosen school-issued devices if they knew the extent of the monitoring. (“I’m lucky that’s an option for us,” she says.) She also worried that when monitoring software automatically closes tabs or otherwise penalizes multitasking, it makes it harder for students to cultivate their own ability to focus and build discipline.”

Teachers and school administrators may be well intentioned, but they’re not thinking particularly large picture. But the creation of this bifurcated treatment of privacy wasn’t lost on the Center for Democracy and Technology, which issued a report last month that found, unsurprisingly, wealthier kids that can afford their own devices are subject to less surveillance and are inherently trusted more overall. Sometimes just by nature of the laptop surveillance systems, but also thanks to school district concerns about liability:

“LEAs (local education agencies) with wealthier student populations reported that their students are more likely to have access to personal devices, which are subject to less monitoring than school-issued devices…LEAs feel compelled to monitor student activity to satisfy perceived legal requirements and protect student safety.”

So in trying to “help” kids, by not thinking broadly enough you’re teaching them that they’re inherently inferior and less deserving of overall trust. Combine that with the overarching problem that less expensive computer and phone hardware is often inherently less private and secure, and it’s not particularly hard to see how efforts to “bridge the digital divide” could make some aspects of it worse if they’re not particularly well thought out.

Read more: techdirt.com

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