2018 State of EdTech Privacy Report: Third-party tracking

A majority of applications and services are non-transparent or explicitly allow Third-party Tracking.

June 04, 2018
Girard Kelly
Counsel & Director, Privacy Review

Jeff Graham Senior Engineer
Developer

CATEGORIES Privacy Evaluation Initiative

Among the applications and services we evaluated for our 2018 State of EdTech Privacy Report, approximately 21% disclosed a qualitatively better response that collected information will never be used by third-party advertising or tracking technologies. Accordingly, collection of information from children or students using persistent identifiers or third-party scripts that can be used to recognize and track users is considered qualitatively worse in our evaluation process, because tracking in this manner can be used for exfiltration of sensitive data through unknown processes, or for marketing or advertising purposes.[1,2] From our analysis, it appears there is approximately a 11% lower occurrence in the disclosure of qualitatively better practices for this issue, as compared to Behavioral Advertising, but a relative increase in qualitatively worse practices to approximately 37%. Furthermore, it appears that most applications and services evaluated are non-transparent about whether or not they use third-party advertisement trackers. This shift to non-transparency and qualitatively worse practices of marketing related practices is non-conforming, but also unsurprising given the recent explosion of desktop and mobile third- party advertising trackers used in mainstream web applications and services in only the past few years.[3, 4] Therefore, we would expect more policies to include transparent qualitative responses on this issue year-over-year as it becomes an increasingly important privacy expectation for parents and teachers, and an important differentiating feature when choosing between competing educational applications and services.

In addition, our evaluation process observationally determined that the majority of services evaluated do not provide third-party advertising trackers on their websites. However, we did not observationally evaluate third-party advertising trackers used with mobile applications. The lack of third-party advertising trackers is expected in this context, given that these are popular educational services and vendors ostensibly wish to avoid similar compliance issues of collecting behavioral information from children and students. However, unlike other marketing or advertising indicators, it appears vendors are neither aware, nor believe, there is currently a comparative advantage to disclosing they do not engage in the qualitatively worse practice of third-party tracking. Given that approximately 42% of applications and services are non-transparent on this issue, it is recommended that vendors change their disclosure practices in order to provide more notice to consumers about whether or not their product uses third- party advertising trackers; third-party tracking practices are ultimately no different than other methods of collecting behavioral information for marketing or advertising purposes.

Key Finding: Third-party Tracking

Figure 1: This chart illustrates the percentage of question responses for Third-party Tracking. Qualitatively better question responses indicate collected information will never be used by third-party advertising or tracking technologies. Qualitatively worse question responses indicate collected information may be used by third-party advertising or tracking technologies. Non-Transparent responses indicate the terms are unclear about whether or not collected information can be used by third-party advertising or tracking technologies.

For more information about our key findings download the full 2018 State of EdTech Privacy Report.

 

References:

[1] Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), 16 C.F.R. Part 312.2 (an operator is prohibited from sharing a persistent identifier collected from children that can be used to recognize and track a user over time and across different websites or services without verifiable parental consent).

[2] California Online Privacy Protection Act (CalOPPA), Cal. B.&P. Code §22575(b)(7) (an operator may provide a hyperlink in their privacy policy to a location containing a description, including the effects, of any program or protocol that offers the consumer a choice not to be tracked).

[3] Lerner, Adam & Simpson, Anna Kornfeld, et al., Internet Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Track- ers: An Archaeological Study of Web Tracking from 1996 to 2016, (2016), https://trackingexcavator.cs.washington.edu/InternetJonesAndTheRaidersOf....

[4] Razaghpanah, Abbas & Nithyanand, Rishab, et al., Apps, Trackers, Privacy, and Regulators, A Global Study of the Mobile Tracking Ecosystem, (2018), https://www.ndss-symposium.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2018/02/ndss2....