Tag Archives: children

Failing a generation is not what post-Brexit Britain needs

Basically Britain needs Prof. Brian Cox shaping education policy:

“If it were up to me I would increase pay and conditions and levels of responsibility and respect significantly, because it is an investment that would pay itself back many times over in the decades to come.”

Don’t use children as ‘measurement probes’ to test schools

What effect does using school exam results to reform the school system have on children? And what effect does it have on society?

Last autumn Ofqual published a report and their study on consistency of exam marking and metrics.

The report concluded that half of pupils in English Literature, as an example, are not awarded the “correct” grade on a particular exam paper due to marking inconsistencies and the design of the tests.
Given the complexity and sensitivity of the data, Ofqual concluded, it is essential that the metrics stand up to scrutiny and that there is a very clear understanding behind the meaning and application of any quality of marking.  They wrote that, “there are dangers that information from metrics (particularly when related to grade boundaries) could be used out of context.”

Context and accuracy are fundamental to the value of and trust in these tests. And at the moment, trust is not high in the system behind it. There must also be trust in policy behind the system.

This summer two sets of UK school tests, will come under scrutiny. GCSEs and SATS. The goal posts are moving for children and schools across the country. And it’s bad for children and bad for Britain.

Grades A-G will be swapped for numbers 1 -9

GCSE sitting 15-16 year olds will see their exams shift to a numerical system, scoring from the highest Grade 9 to Grade 1, with the three top grades replacing the current A and A*. The alphabetical grading system will be fully phased out by 2019.

The plans intended that roughly the same proportion of students as have achieved a Grade C will be awarded a new Grade 4 and as Schools Week reported: “There will be two GCSE pass rates in school performance tables.”

One will measure grade 5s or above, and this will be called the ‘strong’ pass rate. And the other will measure grade 4s or above, and this will be the ‘standard’ pass rate.

Laura McInerney summed up, “in some senses, it’s not a bad idea as it will mean it is easier to see if the measures are comparable. We can check if the ‘standard’ rate is better or worse over the next few years. (This is particularly good for the DfE who have been told off by the government watchdog for fiddling about with data so much that no one can tell if anything has worked anymore).”

There’s plenty of confusion in parents, how the numerical grading system will work. The confusion you can gauge in playground conversations, is also reflected nationally in a more measurable way.

Market research in a range of audiences – including businesses, head teachers, universities, colleges, parents and pupils – found that just 31 per cent of secondary school pupils and 30 per cent of parents were clear on the new numerical grading system.

So that’s a change in the GCSE grading structure. But why? If more differentiators are needed, why not add one or two more letters and shift grade boundaries? A policy need for these changes is unclear.

Machine marking is training on ten year olds

I wonder if any of the shift to numerical marking, is due in any part to a desire to move GCSEs in future to machine marking?

This year, ten and eleven year olds, children in their last year of primary school, will have their SATs tests computer marked.

That’s everything in maths and English. Not multiple choice papers or one word answers, but full written responses. If their f, b or g doesn’t look like the correct  letter in the correct place in the sentence, then it gains no marks.

Parents are concerned about children whose handwriting is awful, but their knowledge is not. How well can they hope to be assessed? If exams are increasingly machine marked out of sight, many sent to India, where is our oversight of the marking process and accuracy?

The concerns I’ve heard simply among local parents and staff, seem reflected in national discussions and the assessor, Oftsed. TES has reported Ofsted’s most senior officials as saying that the inspectorate is just as reluctant to use this year’s writing assessments as it was in 2016. Teachers and parents locally are united in feeling it is not accurate, not fair, and not right.

The content is also to be tougher.

How will we know what is being accurately measured and the accuracy of the metrics with content changes at the same time? How will we know if children didn’t make the mark, or if the marks were simply not awarded?

The accountability of the process is less than transparent to pupils and parents. We have little opportunity for Ofqual’s recommended scrutiny of these metrics, or the data behind the system on our kids.

Causation, correlation and why we should care

The real risk is that no one will be able to tell if there is an error, where it stems from, and where there is a reason if pass rates should be markedly different from what was expected.

After the wide range of changes across pupil attainment, exam content, school progress scores, and their interaction and dependencies, can they all fit together and be comparable with the past at all?

If the SATS are making lots of mistakes simply due to being bad at reading ten year’ old’s handwriting, how will we know?

Or if GCSE scores are lower, will we be able to see if it is because they have genuinely differentiated the results in a wider spread, and stretched out the fail, pass and top passes more strictly than before?

What is likely, is that this year’s set of children who were expecting As and A star at GCSE but fail to be the one of the two children nationally who get the new grade 9, will be disappointed to feel they are not, after all, as great as they thought they were.

And next year, if you can’t be the one or two to get the top mark, will the best simply stop stretching themselves and rest a bit easier, because, whatever, you won’t get that straight grade As anyway?

Even if children would not change behaviours were they to know, the target range scoring sent by third party data processors to schools, discourages teachers from stretching those at the top.

Politicians look for positive progress, but policies are changing that will increase the number of schools deemed to have failed. Why?

Our children’s results are being used to reform the school system.

Coasting and failing schools can be compelled to become academies.

Government policy on this forced academisation was rejected by popular revolt. It appears that the government is determined that schools *will* become academies with the same fervour that they *will* re-introduce grammar schools. Both are unevidenced and unwanted. But there is a workaround.  Create evidence. Make the successful scores harder to achieve, and more will be seen to fail.

A total of 282 secondary schools in England were deemed to be failing by the government this January, as they “have not met a new set of national standards”.

It is expected that even more will attain ‘less’ this summer. Tim Leunig, Chief Analyst & Chief Scientific Adviser Department for Education, made a personal guess at two reaching the top mark.

The context of this GCSE ‘failure’ is the changes in how schools are measured. Children’s progress over 8 subjects, or “P8” is being used as an accountability measure of overall school quality.

But it’s really just: “a school’s average Attainment 8 score adjusted for pupils’ Key Stage 2 attainment.” [Dave Thomson, Education Datalab]

Work done by FFT Education Datalab showed that contextualising P8 scores can lead to large changes for some schools.  (Read more here and here). You cannot meaningfully compare schools with different types of intake, but it appears that the government is determined to do so. Starting ever younger if new plans go ahead.

Data is being reshaped to tell stories to fit to policy.

Shaping children’s future

What this reshaping doesn’t factor in at all, is the labelling of a generation or more, with personal failure, from age ten and up.

All this tinkering with the data, isn’t just data.

It’s tinkering badly with our kids sense of self, their sense of achievement, aspiration, and with that; the country’s future.

Education reform has become the aim, and it has replaced the aims of education.

Post-Brexit Britain doesn’t need policy that delivers ideology. We don’t need “to use children as ‘measurement probes’ to test schools.

Just as we shouldn’t use children’s educational path to test their net worth or cost to the economy. Or predict it in future.

Children’s education and human value cannot be measured in data.

Google Family Link for Under 13s: children’s privacy friend or faux?

“With the Family Link app from Google, you can stay in the loop as your kid explores on their Android* device. Family Link lets you create a Google Account for your kid that’s like your account, while also helping you set certain digital ground rules that work for your family — like managing the apps your kid can use, keeping an eye on screen time, and setting a bedtime on your kid’s device.”


John Carr shared his blog post about the Google Family Link today which was the first I had read about the new US account in beta. In his post, with an eye on GDPR, he asks, what is the right thing to do?

What is the Family Link app?

Family Link requires a US based google account to sign up, so outside the US we can’t read the full details. However from what is published online, it appears to offer the following three key features:

“Approve or block the apps your kid wants to download from the Google Play Store.

Keep an eye on screen time. See how much time your kid spends on their favorite apps with weekly or monthly activity reports, and set daily screen time limits for their device. “

and

“Set device bedtime: Remotely lock your kid’s device when it’s time to play, study, or sleep.”

From the privacy and disclosure information it reads that there is not a lot of difference between a regular (over 13s) Google account and this one for under 13s. To collect data from under 13s it must be compliant with COPPA legislation.

If you google “what is COPPA” the first result says, The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a law created to protect the privacy of children under 13.”

But does this Google Family Link do that? What safeguards and controls are in place for use of this app and children’s privacy?

What data does it capture?

“In order to create a Google Account for your child, you must review the Disclosure (including the Privacy Notice) and the Google Privacy Policy, and give consent by authorizing a $0.30 charge on your credit card.”

Google captures the parent’s verified real-life credit card data.

Google captures child’s name, date of birth and email.

Google captures voice.

Google captures location.

Google may associate your child’s phone number with their account.

And lots more:

Google automatically collects and stores certain information about the services a child uses and how a child uses them, including when they save a picture in Google Photos, enter a query in Google Search, create a document in Google Drive, talk to the Google Assistant, or watch a video in YouTube Kids.

What does it offer over regular “13+ Google”?

In terms of general safeguarding, it doesn’t appear that SafeSearch is on by default but must be set and enforced by a parent.

Parents should “review and adjust your child’s Google Play settings based on what you think is right for them.”

Google rightly points out however that, “filters like SafeSearch are not perfect, so explicit, graphic, or other content you may not want your child to see makes it through sometimes.”

Ron Amadeo at Arstechnica wrote a review of the Family Link app back in February, and came to similar conclusions about added safeguarding value:

“Other than not showing “personalized” ads to kids, data collection and storage seems to work just like in a regular Google account. On the “Disclosure for Parents” page, Google notes that “your child’s Google Account will be like your own” and “Most of these products and services have not been designed or tailored for children.” Google won’t do any special content blocking on a kid’s device, so they can still get into plenty of trouble even with a monitored Google account.”

Your child will be able to share information, including photos, videos, audio, and location, publicly and with others, when signed in with their Google Account. And Google wants to see those photos.

There’s some things that parents cannot block at all.

Installs of app updates can’t be controlled, so leave a questionable grey area. Many apps are built on classic bait and switch – start with a free version and then the upgrade contains paid features. This is therefore something to watch for.

“Regardless of the approval settings you choose for your child’s purchases and downloads, you won’t be asked to provide approval in some instances, such as if your child: re-downloads an app or other content; installs an update to an app (even an update that adds content or asks for additional data or permissions); or downloads shared content from your Google Play Family Library. “

The child “will have the ability to change their activity controls, delete their past activity in “My Activity,” and grant app permissions (including things like device location, microphone, or contacts) to third parties”.

What’s in it for children?

You could argue that this gives children “their own accounts” and autonomy. But why do they need one at all? If I give my child a device on which they can download an app, then I approve it first.

If I am not aware of my under 13 year old child’s Internet time physically, then I’m probably not a parent who’s going to care to monitor it much by remote app either. Is there enough insecurity around ‘what children under 13 really do online’, versus what I see or they tell me as a parent, that warrants 24/7 built-in surveillance software?

I can use safe settings without this app. I can use a device time limiting app without creating a Google account for my child.

If parents want to give children an email address, yes, this allows them to have a device linked Gmail account to which you as a parent, cannot access content. But wait a minute, what’s this. Google can?

Google can read their mails and provide them “personalised product features”. More detail is probably needed but this seems clear:

“Our automated systems analyze your child’s content (including emails) to provide your child personally relevant product features, such as customized search results and spam and malware detection.”

And what happens when the under 13s turn 13? It’s questionable that it is right for Google et al. to then be able draw on a pool of ready-made customers’ data in waiting. Free from COPPA ad regulation. Free from COPPA privacy regulation.

Google knows when the child reaches 13 (the set-up requires a child’s date of birth, their first and last name, and email address, to set up the account). And they will inform the child directly when they become eligible to sign up to a regular account free of parental oversight.

What a birthday gift. But is it packaged for the child or Google?

What’s in it for Google?

The parental disclosure begins,

“At Google, your trust is a priority for us.”

If it truly is, I’d suggest they revise their privacy policy entirely.

Google’s disclosure policy also makes parents read a lot before you fully understand the permissions this app gives to Google.

I do not believe Family Link gives parents adequate control of their children’s privacy at all nor does it protect children from predatory practices.

While “Google will not serve personalized ads to your child“, your child “will still see ads while using Google’s services.”

Google also tailors the Family Link apps that the child sees, (and begs you to buy) based on their data:

“(including combining personal information from one service with information, including personal information, from other Google services) to offer them tailored content, such as more relevant app recommendations or search results.”

Contextual advertising using “persistent identifiers” is permitted under COPPA, and is surely a fundamental flaw. It’s certainly one I wouldn’t want to see duplicated under GDPR. Serving up ads that are relevant to the content the child is using, doesn’t protect them from predatory ads at all.

Google captures geolocators and knows where a child is and builds up their behavioural and location patterns. Google, like other online companies, captures and uses what I’ve labelled ‘your synthesised self’; the mix of online and offline identity and behavioural data about a user. In this case, the who and where and what they are doing, are the synthesised selves of under 13 year old children.

These data are made more valuable by the connection to an adult with spending power.

The Google Privacy Policy’s description of how Google services generally use information applies to your child’s Google Account.

Google gains permission via the parent’s acceptance of the privacy policy, to pass personal data around to third parties and affiliates. An affiliate is an entity that belongs to the Google group of companies. Today, that’s a lot of companies.

Google’s ad network consists of Google services, like Search, YouTube and Gmail, as well as 2+ million non-Google websites and apps that partner with Google to show ads.

I also wonder if it will undo some of the previous pro-privacy features on any linked child’s YouTube account if Google links any logged in accounts across the Family Link and YouTube platforms.

Is this pseudo-safe use a good thing?

In practical terms, I’d suggest this app is likely to lull parents into a false sense of security. Privacy safeguarding is not the default set up.

It’s questionable that Google should adopt some sort of parenting role through an app. Parental remote controls via an app isn’t an appropriate way to regulate whether my under 13 year old is using their device, rather than sleeping.

It’s also got to raise questions about children’s autonomy at say, 12. Should I as a parent know exactly every website and app that my child visits? What does that do for parental-child trust and relations?

As for my own children I see no benefit compared with letting them have supervised access as I do already.  That is without compromising my debit card details, or under a false sense of safeguarding. Their online time is based on age appropriate education and trust, and yes I have to manage their viewing time.

That said, if there are people who think parents cannot do that, is the app a step forward? I’m not convinced. It’s definitely of benefit to Google. But for families it feels more like a sop to adults who feel a duty towards safeguarding children, but aren’t sure how to do it.

Is this the best that Google can do by children?

In summary it seems to me that the Family Link app is a free gift from Google. (Well, free after the thirty cents to prove you’re a card-carrying adult.)

It gives parents three key tools: App approval (accept, pay, or block), Screen-time surveillance,  and a remote Switch Off of child’s access.

In return, Google gets access to a valuable data set – a parent-child relationship with credit data attached – and can increase its potential targeted app sales. Yet Google can’t guarantee additional safeguarding, privacy, or benefits for the child while using it.

I think for families and child rights, it’s a false friend. None of these tools per se require a Google account. There are alternatives.

Children’s use of the Internet should not mean they are used and their personal data passed around or traded in hidden back room bidding by the Internet companies, with no hope of control.

There are other technical solutions to age verification and privacy too.

I’d ask, what else has Google considered and discarded?

Is this the best that a cutting edge technology giant can muster?

This isn’t designed to respect children’s rights as intended under COPPA or ready for GDPR, and it’s a shame they’re not trying.

If I were designing Family Link for children, it would collect no real identifiers. No voice. No locators. It would not permit others access to voice or images or need linked. It would keep children’s privacy intact, and enable them when older, to decide what they disclose. It would not target personalised apps/products  at children at all.

GDPR requires active, informed parental consent for children’s online services. It must be revocable, personal data must collect the minimum necessary and be portable. Privacy policies must be clear to children. This, in terms of GDPR readiness, is nowhere near ‘it’.

Family Link needs to re-do their homework. And this isn’t a case of ‘please revise’.

Google is a multi-billion dollar company. If they want parental trust, and want to be GDPR and COPPA compliant, they should do the right thing.

When it comes to child rights, companies must do or do not. There is no try.


image source: ArsTechnica

Information society services: Children in the GDPR, Digital Economy Bill & Digital Strategy

In preparation for The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) there  must be an active UK decision about policy in the coming months for children and the Internet – provision of ‘Information Society Services’. The age of consent for online content aimed at children from May 25, 2018 will be 16 by default unless UK law is made to lower it.

Age verification for online information services in the GDPR, will mean capturing parent-child relationships. This could mean a parent’s email or credit card unless there are other choices made. What will that mean for access to services for children and to privacy? It is likely to offer companies an opportunity for a data grab, and mean privacy loss for the public, as more data about family relationships will be created and collected than the content provider would get otherwise.

Our interactions create a blended identity of online and offline attributes which I suggested in a previous post, create synthesised versions of our selves raises questions on data privacy and security.

The goal may be to protect the physical child. The outcome will mean it simultaneously expose children and parents to risks that we would not otherwise be put through increased personal data collection. By increasing the data collected, it increases the associated risks of loss, theft, and harm to identity integrity. How will legislation balance these risks and rights to participation?

The UK government has various work in progress before then, that could address these questions:

But will they?

As Sonia Livingstone wrote in the post on the LSE media blog about what to expect from the GDPR and its online challenges for children:

“Now the UK, along with other Member States, has until May 2018 to get its house in order”.

What will that order look like?

The Digital Strategy and Ed Tech

The Digital Strategy commits to changes in National Pupil Data  management. That is, changes in the handling and secondary uses of data collected from pupils in the school census, like using it for national research and planning.

It also means giving data to commercial companies and the press. Companies such as private tutor pupil matching services, and data intermediaries. Journalists at the Times and the Telegraph.

Access to NPD via the ONS VML would mean safe data use, in safe settings, by safe (trained and accredited) users.

Sensitive data — it remains to be seen how DfE intends to interpret ‘sensitive’ and whether that is the DPA1998 term or lay term meaning ‘identifying’ as it should — will no longer be seen by users for secondary uses outside safe settings.

However, a grey area on privacy and security remains in the “Data Exchange” which will enable EdTech products to “talk to each other”.

The aim of changes in data access is to ensure that children’s data integrity and identity are secure.  Let’s hope the intention that “at all times, the need to preserve appropriate privacy and security will remain paramount and will be non-negotiable” applies across all closed pupil data, and not only to that which may be made available via the VML.

This strategy is still far from clear or set in place.

The Digital Strategy and consumer data rights

The Digital Strategy commits under the heading of “Unlocking the power of data in the UK economy and improving public confidence in its use” to the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation by May 2018. The Strategy frames this as a business issue, labelling data as “a global commodity” and as such, its handling is framed solely as a requirements needed to ensure “that our businesses can continue to compete and communicate effectively around the world” and that adoption “will ensure a shared and higher standard of protection for consumers and their data.”

The GDPR as far as children goes, is far more about protection of children as people. It focuses on returning control over children’s own identity and being able to revoke control by others, rather than consumer rights.

That said, there are data rights issues which are also consumer issues and  product safety failures posing real risk of harm.

Neither The Digital Economy Bill nor the Digital Strategy address these rights and security issues, particularly when posed by the Internet of Things with any meaningful effect.

In fact, the chapter Internet of Things and Smart Infrastructure [ 9/19]  singularly miss out anything on security and safety:

“We want the UK to remain an international leader in R&D and adoption of IoT. We are funding research and innovation through the three year, £30 million IoT UK Programme.”

There was much more thoughtful detail in the 2014 Blackett Review on the IoT to which I was signposted today after yesterday’s post.

If it’s not scary enough for the public to think that their sex secrets and devices are hackable, perhaps it will kill public trust in connected devices more when they find strangers talking to their children through a baby monitor or toy. [BEUC campaign report on #Toyfail]

“The internet-connected toys ‘My Friend Cayla’ and ‘i-Que’ fail miserably when it comes to safeguarding basic consumer rights, security, and privacy. Both toys are sold widely in the EU.”

Digital skills and training in the strategy doesn’t touch on any form of change management plans for existing working sectors in which we expect to see machine learning and AI change the job market. This is something the digital and industrial strategy must be addressing hand in glove.

The tactics and training providers listed sound super, but there does not appear to be an aspirational strategy hidden between the lines.

The Digital Economy Bill and citizens’ data rights

While the rest of Europe in this legislation has recognised that a future thinking digital world without boundaries, needs future thinking on data protection and empowered citizens with better control of identity, the UK government appears intent on taking ours away.

To take only one example for children, the Digital Economy Bill in Cabinet Office led meetings was explicit about use for identifying and tracking individuals labelled under “Troubled Families” and interventions with them. Why, when consent is required to work directly with people, that consent is being ignored to access their information is baffling and in conflict with both the spirit and letter of GDPR. Students and Applicants will see their personal data sent to the Student Loans Company without their consent or knowledge. This overrides the current consent model in place at UCAS.

It is baffling that the government is pursuing the Digital Economy Bill data copying clauses relentlessly, that remove confidentiality by default, and will release our identities in birth, marriage and death data for third party use without consent through Chapter 2, the opening of the Civil Registry, without any safeguards in the bill.

Government has not only excluded important aspects of Parliamentary scrutiny in the bill, it is trying to introduce “almost untrammeled powers” (paragraph 21), that will “very significantly broaden the scope for the sharing of information” and “specified persons”  which applies “whether the service provider concerned is in the public sector or is a charity or a commercial organisation” and non-specific purposes for which the information may be disclosed or used. [Reference: Scrutiny committee comments]

Future changes need future joined up thinking

While it is important to learn from the past, I worry that the effort some social scientists put into looking backwards,  is not matched by enthusiasm to look ahead and making active recommendations for a better future.

Society appears to have its eyes wide shut to the risks of coercive control and nudge as research among academics and government departments moves in the direction of predictive data analysis.

Uses of administrative big data and publicly available social media data for example, in research and statistics, needs further new regulation in practice and policy but instead the Digital Economy Bill looks only at how more data can be got out of Department silos.

A certain intransigence about data sharing with researchers from government departments is understandable. What’s the incentive for DWP to release data showing its policy may kill people?

Westminster may fear it has more to lose from data releases and don’t seek out the political capital to be had from good news.

The ethics of data science are applied patchily at best in government, and inconsistently in academic expectations.

Some researchers have identified this but there seems little will to action:

 “It will no longer be possible to assume that secondary data use is ethically unproblematic.”

[Data Horizons: New forms of Data for Social Research, Elliot, M., Purdam, K., Mackey, E., School of Social Sciences, The University Of Manchester, 2013.]

Research and legislation alike seem hell bent on the low hanging fruit but miss out the really hard things. What meaningful benefit will it bring by spending millions of pounds on exploiting these personal data and opening our identities to risk just to find out whether X course means people are employed in Y tax bracket 5 years later, versus course Z where everyone ends up self employed artists? What ethics will be applied to the outcomes of those questions asked and why?

And while government is busy joining up children’s education data throughout their lifetimes from age 2 across school, FE, HE, into their HMRC and DWP interactions, there is no public plan in the Digital Strategy for the coming 10 to 20 years employment market, when many believe, as do these authors in American Scientific, “around half of today’s jobs will be threatened by algorithms. 40% of today’s top 500 companies will have vanished in a decade.”

What benefit will it have to know what was, or for the plans around workforce and digital skills list ad hoc tactics, but no strategy?

We must safeguard jobs and societal needs, but just teaching people to code is not a solution to a fundamental gap in what our purpose will be, and the place of people as a world-leading tech nation after Brexit. We are going to have fewer talented people from across the world staying on after completing academic studies, because they’re not coming at all.

There may be investment in A.I. but where is the investment in good data practices around automation and machine learning in the Digital Economy Bill?

To do this Digital Strategy well, we need joined up thinking.

Improving online safety for children in The Green Paper on Children’s Internet Safety should mean one thing:

Children should be able to use online services without being used and abused by them.

This article arrived on my Twitter timeline via a number of people. Doteveryone CEO Rachel Coldicutt summed up various strands of thought I started to hear hints of last month at #CPDP2017 in Brussels:

“As designers and engineers, we’ve contributed to a post-thought world. In 2017, it’s time to start making people think again.

“We need to find new ways of putting friction and thoughtfulness back into the products we make.” [Glanceable truthiness, 30.1.2017]

Let’s keep the human in discussions about technology, and people first in our products

All too often in technology and even privacy discussions, people have become ‘consumers’ and ‘customers’ instead of people.

The Digital Strategy may seek to unlock “the power of data in the UK economy” but policy and legislation must put equal if not more emphasis on “improving public confidence in its use” if that long term opportunity is to be achieved.

And in technology discussions about AI and algorithms we hear very little about people at all.  Discussions I hear seem siloed instead into three camps: the academics, the designers and developers,  the politicians and policy makers.  And then comes the lowest circle, ‘the public’ and ‘society’.

It is therefore unsurprising that human rights have fallen down the ranking of importance in some areas of technology development.

It’s time to get this house in order.

Children’s private chats and personal data lost through VTech toys

If you’ve got young children who have an Innotab console  or other ed tech apps and games from Vtech, then you need to pay attention.

Your and your children’s personal data may have been stolen. The Vtech security breach has exposed private data of more than six million children worldwide, including 700,000 British customers.IMG_3125

The games are designed for children age 2-9. The loss reportedly includes thousands of pictures of children and parents, as well as a year’s worth of chat logs, names and addresses.

Where from? Well, the information that parents and children entered in set up or created using the games like Innotab for example.  The Innotab using an apps allows children to record voice and text messages, take photos and send these to the matching app on the parents’ phone. The data from both users has been lost. The link is the registered email account that connects both child’s toy, and parent’s phone, via the downloaded app.

And why kids’ photos may be included, is that during the set up, a profile photo can be taken by the child, and stored and used in a similar way to social media sites.

VTech’s Learning Lodge app store customer database is affected and VTech Kid Connect servers accessed. As a precautionary step, Vtech says on their website, they have suspended Learning Lodge, the Kid Connect network and a dozen websites temporarily whilst they ‘conduct a thorough security assessment’.

Reactions

One mum spoke to Good Morning Britain about how she felt when she discovered information about her child may have been stolen.

She says she hadn’t received any notification about the loss from VTech and didn’t know about it until she saw it on the six o’clock news. She then pro-actively contacted VTech customer services.

VTech’s response was confused, first telling her they had not lost data related to the KidConnect app – but in a later email say they did.

What’s disappointing in GMB’s coverage they focused in the VTech story on how disappointing this would be for the toymaker VTech in the run up to Christmas.

There was little information for families on what this could mean for using the toys safely in future.  They went on to talk about some other web based tools, but didn’t talk about data protection which really should be much stronger for children’s data.

While parents must take an active role in thinking ahead for our children and how their digital identities can be compromised, we also need to be able to rely on organisations with whom we entrust our own and our children’s personal data, and know that when they ask us for data that they will look after it securely, and use it in ways we expect. On the technical side, data security systems need to be proportionate to the risks they place children in, if data are breached. This is true of commercial companies and public bodies.

On the human side, public transparency and good communication are key to managing expectations, to ensure we know what users sign up to, and to know what happens if things go wrong.

Sadly VTech is continuing to downplay the loss of children’s personal data. In their first statement their focus was to tell people not to worry because credit card details were not included.

When I asked five days after the breach was announced, VTech declined to confirm to me whether avatars and profile pictures had been accessed, arguing that its internal investigation is still ongoing. That’s now two weeks ago.

Their FAQs still say this is unknown. If this is true it would appear surprisingly incompetent on the part of VTech to know that all the other items have been lost in detail, but not profile pictures.

That it is possible for personal details that include date of birth, address and photo to all be lost together is clearly a significant threat for identity theft. It shows one risk of having so much identifiable personal data stored in one place.

The good news, is that it appears not to have any malicious motive. According to the report in Motherboard; “The hacker who broke into VTech’s systems […] that he never intended to release the data to the public.

”Frankly, it makes me sick that I was able to get all this stuff,” the hacker told [Motherboard] in an encrypted chat on Monday.

Could this be the biggest consumer breach of children’s personal data in history?

What now for the 700,000 users of the systems?

Parent accounts need to be directly and fully informed by VTech:

a) what was compromised, by platform, by website, or by customer

b) if and how they will be able to use their equipment again

c) how children’s data would be made safe in future and what Vtech are doing that will different from how they handled data before

Any organisation needs to demonstrate through full transparency and how it acts in the event of such a breach, that it is worthy of trust.

The children’s toys and systems appear to have been shut down.

They’re not cheap with the Innotab coming in at around £90 and its cartridge games upwards of £17 each.  Toy sellers will be in the front line for public facing questions in the shops. Anyone that had already bought these just before Christmas will be wondering what to do now, if access to the systems and the apps have been shut down, they won’t work.

And if and when they do work, will they work securely?

Did Vtech contact you and tell you about the breach?

The sensible thing is to stop using that email address, change the password at very minimum and not only on the adult’s phone and child’s game app, but also anywhere else you use it.

What else do you need to know?

What do parents do when their child’s digital identity has been compromised?

More information is needed from the company, and soon.

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If you want to get in touch, come over and visit defenddigitalme.com You can also sign up to the Twitter group, support the campaign to get 8 million school pupils’ data made safe, or leave a comment.

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References:

VTech website FAQs as of December 3, 2015

November 28, 2015: blog TryHunt.com by Microsoft MVP for Developer Security

December 1, 2015: Motherboard report by @josephfcox

December 1, 2015: Motherboard article by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai

 

 

 

That their sighs should not blow there. My hope in haiku.

No sanctuary
but for a stone of stumbling
a rock of offence.

Houses of Israel
mercy from a gin and snare.
All your peoples

broken bodies strewn
bloodied ashen dust blows hot
bomb blasted towers

children, children lost.
Images. Lives left ruins
ragdolls photographs.

And after these things
I saw four angels standing
on the four corners of Earth:

no more dirt tunnels
no din of drone nor ambulance
no burial wail

holding the four winds
that their sighs should not blow there.
In peace, revelation.

 

(AFP Photo / Mohammed Abed)

Refs: Isaiah 8:14 / Revelations 7:1