The New York Times reports that companies including Microsoft have signed a pledge promising "not to sell information on kindergartners through 12th graders. They have also pledged not to use students’ data to target them with advertisements, and not to compile personal profiles of students unless authorized by schools or parents." Student tracking programs, otherwise known as "educational software," generate about $8 billion every year, according to the Times report. The pledge not to violate student privacy—unless schools say they can!—was organized by a DC think tank and a software industry trade group.
The industry group's promise note comes just after California passed a student privacy bill limiting the ways corporations can collect and use information about kids K-12. That law could and should go further, and every other state should follow suit. While it's great that Microsoft says it values student privacy, if companies involved in the nearly $8 billion student tracking industry want to really demonstrate their fealty to students, they'll support federal legislation to update student privacy law across the board.
Cradle to grave digital tracking isn't a future dystopia for kids entering kindergarten this year—it's their lived reality, whether they or their parents know it or not. The technology is all in place right now, without the attendant laws to prevent abuses or abusive practices. We owe it to our kids to make sure they have some room to breathe when they turn 18, and as clean a slate as possible.
Promises, however well meaning, don't and won't cut it. We need action.