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Posted on March 16, 2015 by in Children & Families, Identity & Privacy, Personal

Identity theft in schools is a growing concern as K-12 education is going digital — and fast. Just a few years ago, a high school in New Jersey gave up textbooks completely, having students access a “digital library” instead.

Many technology advocates and educators applaud this shift, but the trend is also raising red flags about security and privacy. Some experts are voicing concern about the types of identity theft that could crop up with new digital education products.

Unlike software that’s made for business or home use, educational software has to strike a tricky balance. Applications must have enough open access to let students share content with each other and teachers, but with sufficient security controls to keep student information safe. That’s not always easy, and some software vendors don’t get it right.

Seeing the Problem

Non-secure learning sites, messaging services and applications could potentially expose students to different types of identity theft. This isn’t the first time that children have been at risk because of poorly protected apps, but with school-supplied technology, the challenges for parents are more difficult.

For example, if your child posts inappropriate photos to Snapchat, that would lead to a serious one-on-one conversation about what’s okay to post. Or you could simply block Snapchat access.

But some parents are less vigilant about school-sanctioned programs. While they have received the school’s seal of approval, these programs might have fundamental flaws in terms of password protection, network connections or data sharing. Such flaws could allow a thief to get into a school network and then steal your child’s information. Child identity theft is a growing problem, and weaker school-supplied programs are only making matters worse.

Improving Your Protection

When considering how to prevent identity theft on school apps, the first step is to become familiar with what your child is using. Then, do your research on whether those software providers support strict privacy measures.

Here’s a good place to start: More than 100 school vendors have signed an online privacy pledge to safeguard student information and to create stronger security controls for K-12 schools. Check whether your child’s software providers have made the pledge; if they haven’t, contact them and ask why not.

Also, if you have concerns, talk to the school’s IT department. Staff members there should be able to tell you what kind of protection is in place for the types of identity theft risks seen with some education apps.

There are many outstanding K-12 technology options available to help students gain technical skills and enhance their learning. Just make sure that the programs your children use have the right security measures in place.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Brad Flickinger.