A Congressman Has Concerns About Data Gathering in Schools
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Privacy concerns in the classroom have prompted the introduction of a bill that would prevent schools from allowing students to participate in market research surveys without the consent of their parents.
The Student Privacy Protection Act, introduced last week by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., also calls for a study of commercial involvement in the classroom. Miller is concerned that current privacy laws do not prevent companies from entering schools to gather data that is then sold to advertisers, who in turn use the information to target kids.
“Students go to school to learn, not to provide companies an edge in the hotly contested youth market,” Miller said, “but increasing numbers of companies are targeting schools as the best place to learn the purchasing preferences of young people.”
Miller cited three examples: students in a New Jersey elementary school who filled out a 27-page booklet, called “My All About Me Journal” as part of a marketing survey for a cable television channel; students in a Massachusetts elementary school who spent two days tasting cereal and answering an opinion poll; and the ZapMe! Corp. of San Ramon, Calif., which provides schools with free computers and then monitors individual student Web browsing habits, breaking down the data by age, sex and ZIP code.
If enacted, legislation would require the federal General Accounting Office to document the extent of commercial advertising, program sponsorship and sponsored educational materials in schools.
The Channel One Network, which provides programming and advertisements to schools, says the bill will not affect it. “We are about as commercial as any television program or newspaper,” said executive vice president Jeff Ballabon. “I can’t begin to think Congress is interested in ending independent journalism in the classroom.”
Douglas Zarkin, vice president at GWhiz! Youth Marketing, a division of Grey Advertising in New York, added: “Kids are so information savvy. They know where to get information and how to get it, which makes them willing to give it.”
But Zarkin does not expect advertisers to fight. “If nothing else, it makes us more responsible as marketers. There has to be accountability and I seriously doubt any marketer would have a problem with it.” –with Kathleen Sampey
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