Alexa and Threat to Privacy in Schools

Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, CHFI, CFE,

So you think that Alexa poses no threat to student and educator data privacy in the school system? Think again.

While Amazon has confirmed that “its Echo devices recorded a family’s conversation and then messaged it to a random family on the family’s contact list,” not much has been explored about possible threats to privacy in the public education system.

Use of Alexa and Echo.Dot in the Classroom

Did you know that educational technologists have been promoting the use of Alexa and Echo.Dot by teachers in the classroom since 2016? Echo.Dot allows students to utilize the system’s voice control feature to ask questions and receive answers in return. Some theorize that these innovations can improve instruction and student learning. Innocently, in February 2017, Dr. Bruce Ellis and Kate Morris promoted the classroom use of these tools in the following manners:

  • Probability Tool
  • Literacy Support
  • Social Studies Quizzes
  • Relaxation Ideas
  • Current Events
  • Read Audio Book
  • Practice Speaking
  • Journal Writing

Exploitation of Minors by Criminals

However, have we gone too far without proper controls? I am reminded of a presentation I gave before the Federal Information Systems Security Educators Association regarding the use by cybercriminals of toys (Hello Kitty, My Melody)  targeted toward toddlers, adolescents and teens for the gathering, exploitation and re-selling of family confidential data. See the presentation here. The Hello Kittty data hack disclosed the confidential data of 3.3 million users. The Wi-Fi Hello Barbie toy allowed hackers to listen to recorded messages, unbeknownst to the kids playing with the toy or their parents.

Risk Led to FBI Announcement

After the risk of hacking and the threat of cyber security became public, the FBI made an announcement alerting parents to the heightened cyber security threat embedded in common, every day toys.

One wonders if the risk associated with the unfettered use of educational technology tools in the public schools will result in similar scrutiny.

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Tonya J. Mead, CFE, CHFI, PI, MBA, MA, formerly a certified K-12 Administrator and School Psychologist is author of Fraud in Education: Beyond the Wrong Answer and president of Shared Knowledge, LLC If you like her work, please support her at Patreon.