“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”
There’s also no such thing as a free app. An app is free of a transactional cost as long as you trade away a few bytes of data about yourself. We’re all guilty of clicking the “Accept” button as soon as the dialog pops up asking us for permissions. And as teachers, the moment we see a free tool, we ask our students to sign up as well.
The data collected is harmless and reputable companies would not do anything malicious with your information. Developers simply want the business intelligence from seeing how you use their app so they can improve their product. You benefit from their software, and they benefit from your usage, so what’s the problem?
I believe that our data is more valuable than we may think it is.
When I was growing up, perhaps the only group I could think of that was mining big data is the Nielsen Media Research group. To this day, they still survey viewership of television shows and analyze it among demographics to identify a rating for the popularity of a given show. It is a largely invisible process and only 0.3% of households in the US actually participate. The ratings have had an impact on whether some of my favorite TV shows would make it past a pilot or the first season.
Today, our data is mined beyond television and at even larger scales. When we shop for items on Amazon, we add a tally to each item that we view. The more we browse, the more a pattern emerges. Our shopping activity even suggests items for others to purchase. Social media websites including Twitter and Facebook can examine a user’s engagement with a post. How long did the user hover over the content, did the user click, was the user willing to type a response, and if they did, how committed were they in actually replying? For shopping and social media, the data that is mined allows the companies to capture more traffic, better traffic, and ultimately the data adds value to the company.
If these tech giants are profiting from our usage data, why do let them have the it so freely? What do they see in the data that we aren’t seeing? If they value our information so much, why don’t we?
As an adult making these decisions for myself, I can put up with the data mined by Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook. I know what I signed up for: humorous fake reviews, viral cat videos, and a community to share them with. They deliver a perceived value to me at a reasonable exchange for the perceived value I deliver to them. Besides, my breadcrumbs and cookies are already scattered across the internet–there’s no turning back.
But children have more choice.
They might not be able to completely halt all the data that is collected on them, but they can certainly reduce it. Imagine the alternative–by the time a child turns 18 and graduates high school, the amount of data they will have generated will be far greater than what we had created growing up.
I believe that only three entities should be generating data on a child: the child, the child’s parents, and the child’s teacher. Everybody else is on a need-to-know basis: if they don’t need to know, they don’t get to know. Later in life, if a child wishes to become a known quantity on the internet and in big data sets, let that be their informed choice.
In the mean time, it is our responsibility as parents and teachers to help children reduce their digital footprint.
We can start by being highly selective in apps and websites that we ask our children to visit. Unfortunately not all educational apps can deliver an educational outcome for the amount of data and type of data that they collect. As a developer I have to be critical about the pedagogy I use in my own apps; it is my moral imperative to push the app industry to be more keen on applying educational research in their offerings.
Use this checklist to determine if your apps and websites are serving your child:
- What educational research informs the app or website?
- Can the app or website communicate with other apps and websites your child uses or will it require duplicating data?
- What learning can the app or website achieve that your child could not achieve in any other way?
- What problem does the app or website solve that could not be solved by another way?
- What is the perceived ratio between the aesthetic of an app or website and its educational content?
- Is the app or website situated at the concrete, representational, or abstract level of learning?
- If most of your apps and websites are at the abstract level, has your child had adequate access to learning at the concrete and representational levels?
If you found yourself stopping at question 1, stay tuned for more in this blog series.
If you have an app or website that collects meaningful data and provides significant educational content, please share it with me on twitter @8bitclassroom. I’ll retweet anything that passes my standards.
And if you’re finding that there’s not an app for that, let’s build it ourselves in PowerApps.