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Human Rights Watch report reveals that apps and online class websites in Brazil collected private data from children

A global report conducted by the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that thousands of children had their private data secretly collected by websites and apps used to broadcast online classes — including in Brazil. According to the study, 89% of the apps analyzed “jeopardized or directly violated children’s privacy and other rights for purposes unrelated to their education.”

The report, released this week at EdTech Exposed, an investigative journalism consortium that brings together various media outlets around the world, analyzed applications or platforms available in 49 countries: in addition to Brazil, developed countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the USA and United Kingdom and developing countries such as China, Argentina, Zambia, South Africa and Burkina Faso.

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Nine Brazilian apps were mentioned in the report, two of them funded by governments: Estude em Casa, linked to the state government of Minas Gerais; São Paulo Education Media Center, linked to the São Paulo state government; Uncomplicate, Dragon Learn, Escola Mais, Explicaê, Manga High, Revista Enem and Stoodi. In this sense, the government of São Paulo recommended all applications, except Estude em Casa.

A good part of the applications — called in the US as edtech — used the children’s data to share with companies, such as Google and Facebook, and digital advertising companies (the ad tech). On the issue, Google, in a note to Folha de São Paulo, said that it requires developers and customers to comply with data protection. “We prohibit any ads personalizing or remarketing to underage accounts,” the company said, while noting that the allegations reported in the study are still being investigated.

Stoodi made use of keylogging to collect data

The HRW study analyzed 164 products between March and August 2021 and extracted from there the frequency and prevalence with which each monitoring technology was entered. According to the report, most apps — 147 (89%) — received more data from children than they shared. During monitoring, the apps analyzed data on who the children were, where they were, the device used for communication and what they were doing in the classroom. The information, according to the study, was sent to online advertising technology companies.

“Children are at an even greater risk of manipulation by online behavioral advertising,” explains Hye Jung-han, researcher on technology and children’s rights at HRW in the US and responsible for writing the report. “When data from children is collected for advertising, sophisticated algorithms extract and analyze vast amounts of personal data in order to accurately personalize the ads. These ads are embedded in personalized digital platforms that further blur the distinctions between organic and paid content.”

Data collection capture by Stoodi app
Evidence found by HRW report on real-time keylogging used by Stoodi (Hye Jung-han/Human Right Watch)

One of the companies whose performance was negatively highlighted by the HRW report was Stoodi. According to the report, the company, without informing parents or students, sent student data to a digital advertising company, VE Global. The technology used in data collection, called key loggingwas particularly harmful: once a child entered their name on the website, Stoodi immediately captured their name (seen in the command log as filtersee the image above) and sent it to the URL address “https://drtcusa.veinteractive.com/FormMappings”.

On the matter, Stoodi denied all information, saying that it does not sell or give away user information and that it has no contract with VE Global. According to the company, the use of ad trackers (data trackers for ads) and Cookies (data structures on websites and apps that track a person’s behavior) also don’t break the data policy.

Main image credit: Aleksandra Suzi/Shutterstock

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