Thursday, August 29, 2013

California school district hires company to spy on students’ Facebook, Twitter activities

by: Madison Ruppert

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Southern California’s Glendale Unified School District has hired an outside company to spy on their students’ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube activities, going truly above and beyond in the name of student safety.

While it’s hardly surprising to see public schools invading the privacy of their students, be it through iris scanning or forcing students to wear RFID-enabled identification cards, this is truly unusual.

Richard Sheehan, the superintendent of the Glendale district, told CBS Los Angeles that a Hermosa Beach, California company called Geo Listening is busy analyzing the online posts of some 13,000 students across eight middle and high schools in his district.

“The whole purpose is student safety,” Sheehan said. “Basically, it just monitors for keywords where if a student is considering harming themselves, harming someone else.”

The system is reportedly aimed at giving information that school administrators consider critical to their personnel as quickly as possible.

“We do monitor on and off campus, but we do pay attention during school hours,” Sheehan said to CBS Los Angeles. “We do pay more attention to the school computers.”

Geo Listening specifically markets itself to schools seeking to spy on their students, or as they put it, monitor for students “crying for help.”

Tje company explains that its missions is to “Provide more timely and relevant information to school administrators so that they can better intervene in the lives of children, and ultimately provide these kids with a more optimal chance to become productive citizens with positive peer connections.”

During the pilot program last year, the district was able to intervene in the case of a suicidal student thanks to the Geo Listening service, according to Sheehan.

“The administrator was contacted at the school site,” Sheehan said. “Then we made contact with the student, the student’s family and we got them the appropriate help.”

However, self-harm and suicide are not the only things that Geo Listening has been used to ferret out.

“We have provided information to school districts, which has led to numerous successful interventions on behalf of students that intended self-harm, suicide, bullying, truancy, substance abuse, and vandalism,” Chris Frydrych, CEO of Geo Listening, said.

“We monitor only public posts to social networks. We do not monitor privatized pages, SMS, MMS, email, phone calls, voicemails,” Frydrych added.

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