Friday, December 17, 2021

DOE using GoGuardian and other surveillance programs, without notifying parents or providing them info required by law


NYC parents: please contact us at info@studentprivacymatters.org if your child has GoGuardian or another surveillance app installed on their laptop, either directly or through G-Suite.   If you're not sure, instructions on ho
w you can tell are below.  And please contact us if you're concerned about this issue in general.

GoGuardian is a controversial surveillance spyware program that can be installed on student laptops or tablets, and if not configured properly, can actually allow teachers and administrators to spy into their homes without their knowledge or consent, as happened last year in Chicago

According to Wikipedia " GoGuardian can collect information about any activity when users are logged onto their accounts, including data originating from a student's webcam, microphone, keyboard, and screen, along with historical data such as browsing history. This collection can be performed whether students connect from school-provided or personally-owned devices."

The use of this program has greatly expanded during the pandemic. Bloomberg News recently reported that DOE has " signed a similar contract with the company, bringing GoGuardian's potential reach to more than 23 million students."   

GoGuardian is sold by a company called Liminex.  However, after I FOILed the State Comptroller's office for any contracts between the DOE and GoGuardian and Liminex, they replied they couldn't find any such contract -- though they only receive contracts over $100,000. According to Checkbook NYC, DOE has paid over $150,000 to Liminex in recent years,  with $51,000 spent between January and August of this year.

When asked by a PEP member about whether they had a contract with GoGuardian, the DOE replied this way:

The DOE was able to Centrally make this product available to all schools through the Enterprise G-Suite/Google Workspace license at no cost to school nor to families. However, some schools have purchased/used this product locally.

On a NYCDOE Google for Education site maintained by Google, GoGuardian is listed under the category of "G-suite extenders", along with other surveillance programs, like Securly and Gaggle.

The lack of transparency and parent notification about their use of GoGuardian appears to be the DOE's attempt to evade the state student privacy law, Education Law § 2-d, which requires that districts that allow companies  access to personal student data must have a contract addendum that provides specific privacy and security protections for that data, called a Parent Bill of Rights, and this addendum is supposed to be posted on the district website.  Individual schools are not supposed to be allowed to sign up and use any such programs without going through the same legal process.

None of these addendums are posted for GoGuardian, Securly, Gaggle, or G-Suite for that matter, and most parents probably don't know if these programs are installed on their children's laptops or not.

On the DOE website, there is a very incomplete  list of vendors/contracts with their posted Parent Bill of Rights ; the DOE has signed up for literally hundreds of other such data-gathering programs without making that info available to parents, so we really have no idea how this personal information is being used and/or protected.

Last year, Sen. Brad Hoylman sent a letter to DOE about their lack of compliance with the state student privacy law; since then, the situation seems to have gotten even worse.

Here are instructions on how to tell what programs are operating in the background on a Mac;  here are the instructions for a computer using Windows.  Finally, here is  GoGuardian's explanation on how to check if their app is being used.


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