Is Pearson "spying" on our children?

Education blogs and social media sites are on fire this morning over reports that Pearson is spying on children via their social media posts. Here’s a quick summary and some thoughts.

A school superintendent in New Jersey reported that her district had been contacted by Pearson about a breach of test security. According to the test company, a student had posted a picture of a test question on Twitter. In actuality, the student had posted a comment about the test hours after the test was over. The story was reported by Bob Braun of the Star Ledger, who discovered that Pearson became aware of the alleged incident through a service which they use to monitor social media. Pearson’s response is essentially that monitoring public postings on social media is necessary to insure secure tests.   You can read more about this story at BobBraunLedger, The Washington Post, and DailyKos.

Most articles are focusing on the “spying” aspect, but that may be just a tad bit of hyperbole. The company Pearson is using doesn’t actually “spy” on individuals, it monitors social media for key words. Still pretty creepy though. Beyond that:

Pearson isn’t acknowledging any wrongdoing. But it’s interesting to note that until this morning, Tracx, the company that does the monitoring for them had a page on their website using Pearson as a case study for their service. As soon as the story exploded, they took the page down. Unfortunately for them, Google caches website pages, so you can still view it here. (note to anyone thinking about hiring Tracx, these guys don’t seem to know how the internet works).

Could be just a coincidence, but once Bob Braun’s story took off, his site was hit with a DOS attack and knocked offline. (Not making any specific accusations, but maybe Tracx DOES understand how the internet works)

What’s most disturbing about this isn’t just the spying / monitoring, it’s the fact that this whole story broke based on a FALSE ACCUSATION. Remember, Pearson claimed that there was a photograph of a test item taken during a test, but no such picture existed. That is not a simple mix-up, it is a HUGE distinction.  And this is the company that will be controlling all the data that will be used to determine who passes and who fails – who gets fired and who gets to keep their job.
Finally, if nothing else, this is just another reminder about the use of social media and posting things on the web. 
  • Everything posted on Twitter is public 
  • Things posted on Facebook, Instagram, etc,  are only private if you make them private – and even then they’re only as secure as your worst frenemy.
  • Even when you delete something, it may be too late (just ask Tracx)

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