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There are lobby groups of parents around the world leading angry demonstrations against the collection of big data from children. Others argue that these parents are over-reacting. What do you think?

For those not familiar with the phrase, big data is used to describe the acquisition, storage and analysis of large quantities of data; quantities bigger than we’ve ever had in human history. Google was one of the pioneers in this area and it’s developed into an industry worth billions of dollars.

Big data is commonly used to make predictions about what individuals might purchase; these predictions then inform targeted advertising campaigns. The most infamous example of this is Target’s pregnancy targeting.

Big data at home

For children, this means that their online interactions such as their search histories, how long they spend on an app, what they do on there, even the content of their messages might be tracked by data collectors. The data is then analysed to predict your child’s future spending and your child will, as a result, receive a never-ending list of personalised advertising in their searches, Facebook feed or other online accounts.

Big data at school

There’s now also worrying stories of big data being collected in schools. Depending on what educational technology products the school has purchased, data may be collected while children play games online, watch videos or read e-books.

The monitoring can even continue while they do their homework, with companies logging children’s locations, homework routines and progress, and internet search history. The most efficient collection processes are gathering up to as much as 10 million unique data points on each child every day. That’s more data than even Facebook or Netflix collect from their users.

There are a couple of reasons why this type of data is collected in schools. One is so that the educational technology companies, the publishing companies (or whoever has a vested interest and access to the data) may predict children’s learning needs and habits. This can then be developed into personalised advertising materials for the schools. Schools are a huge source of income for these companies.

Predict how well your child will achieve

The second reason is that one, or many of the companies involved in the big data network, may be making predictions about the children’s possible educational achievements on behalf of the school or the school district. This is already happening in USA and other countries around the world. The question this raises for me is what if they get it wrong!

Predictions of children’s learning made using big data will not necessarily be based on hard evidence like test results or achievements in class. It may be based on what can be innocuous and seemingly unrelated pieces of information about the child.

Another problem is that educators are not making the predictions – it’s the statisticians, who do not necessarily know anything about the process of learning.

What if a five-year-old is wrongly predicted as having a learning disorder and so is placed in a particular class? There are implications for the learning opportunities the child will and will not have. This is a crucial learning time and will effect the child’s long-term achievements at school and their career opportunities!

Parents feel like they’re losing control

Parent lobby groups are angry because they’re finding it nearly impossible to pinpoint which companies are collecting data on their children, much less how it’s being used. They don’t know what decisions are being made about their child and who is making them.

At the heart of the parents’ demonstrations is that they want control of information about their child. While they may know that information is being collected about their children, knowing this and knowing how the data will be analysed and what it will be used for are two different things. Big data is being collected from so many aspects of children’s lives now that these parents feel they have no say in what is done with information, the inferences that are being made and how it is effecting their child.

What are your thoughts – do you agree with these parents’ concerns?

This article was originally published at Kidspot- The huge online risk facing our kids