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Privacy Awareness Week 2020: Privacy and remote learning

Privacy Awareness Week (PAW) 2020 is taking place in very different circumstances to previous years.

For most Victorians, many aspects of life, including work and education, are taking place in our homes due to measures put in place to combat coronavirus (COVID-19). Never before has technology been so valuable, giving us the ability to work and learn remotely for an extended period of time.

Using technology for work and education is not new. In schools, the use of CCTV cameras, online platforms and applications to facilitate and supplement student learning was common. In the current circumstances, however, remote and online learning has become the primary means of delivering the school curriculum.

While it’s great that technology has been able to facilitate this, organisations and the public need to be informed and aware of the potential privacy risks posed by remote learning. These risks are further heightened by the fact that they impact one of the most vulnerable groups in society: children and young people.

What are the risks? 

There are a range of privacy risks that may present themselves when using technology for learning including:

  • the lack of clarity about what personal information the various platforms and apps collect;
  • the over-collection of student’s personal information;
  • the use of information for often undisclosed purposes and the sharing of information collected with unknown third parties;
  • monitoring and tracking students;
  • where data is being held or transferred to, how long it’s retained and whether it’s secure.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry highlighted the privacy challenges many consumers face when engaging with digital platforms, which, in addition to those listed above, include information asymmetries and power imbalances that prevent consumers from making informed decisions on the key elements of meaningful consent.

Many of these apps are free but don’t have adequate privacy or security protections. Some of the online tools that schools are using during this pandemic may not originally have been built for educational purposes, and may not have the necessary protections we would expect for our children.

What can we do?

So what can we do – as parents, students, organisations – to help minimise these privacy risk to students and protect their privacy?

For government organisations subject to the Victorian Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014, the Information Privacy Principles (IPPs) provide a good starting point for how to collect, handle, use and disclose personal information in a way that upholds and protects an individual’s information privacy.

Some of key IPPs to note include:

  • Only collect the personal information necessary for your organisation’s functions or activities (IPP 1.1) – having additional information about or of students may seem useful to have, but if it’s not needed, don’t collect it. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
  • Personal information must be protected from misuse, loss, and unauthorised access, modification and disclosure (IPP 4.1) – consider whether platforms and apps used for remote learning have adequate security controls and measures in place to protect personal information collected from students.
  • Personal information may be transferred outside Victoria only under certain circumstances (IPP 9) – some apps may involve student data being transferred outside Victoria. If this is the case, make sure this transfer is permitted under IPP 9.
  • In some cases, parents’ consent may be requested for a student to access or use a particular app or platform. There are five elements to meaningful consent: voluntary, informed, specific, current, and the individual must have the capacity to consent. If consent for the use of a particular app is sought, but there are no alternatives to using that app and there is therefore no choice but to agree, then the consent will not be valid.

For students and parents, being informed is an important part of protecting privacy. While this can be difficult with the long and often complex privacy policies and terms of use that many apps and digital platforms have, being aware of the types of personal information and other data that is generally collected, how that is used and with whom it is shared, can help to make an informed choice – where choice is possible – about whether to use a particular app or platform.

More broadly as individuals, thinking about – and minimising – the personal information we give up is a key way to help protect our privacy, and that of those around us. As we saw from the Cambridge Analytica incident in 2018, something as simple as taking a quiz on Facebook can have significant privacy impacts, not only for our personal information but for our family and friends.

As we look forward to a return to a ‘normal’ work and school life, let’s continue to embody Victoria’s theme for this year’s PAW: Privacy – protect yours, respect others’.

Take a look at our PAW webpage which is full of resources for agencies and the public, including animated videos that explore how we can protect our privacy and respect others’. OVIC’s Youth Advisory Group is also running a creativity competition for young people, with great prizes up for grabs!

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