Dear FBI: It’s Not Just the Dolls You Should Be Worried About.

On Monday, the FBI published a public service announcement alerting parents that “smart toys” and entertainment devices for kids may be collecting vast amounts of data about their children.

“The collection of a child’s personal information combined with a toy’s ability to connect to the internet or other devices raises concerns for privacy and physical safety,” the notice warns.

Major news outlets across the country are now sounding the alarm, encouraging parents to research privacy agreements and to find out who has access to their children’s data.

Despite the sudden and urgent concern for children’s privacy, however, the reports have thus far ignored the biggest elephant in the room…


the fact that massive data collection is happening in our schools every single day.

As school districts across the country implement one-to-one digital device initiatives, school testing policies shift to include ongoing “formative” assessments, and data collection expands beyond academics to include highly sensitive psycho-social information, data collection in schools is at an all time high.

Thus far, however, news outlets like NBC and CBS have given a free pass to CEO’s like Jose Ferreira of Knewton, who boasts that his company is able to “collect thousands of data points on each student each day,” and Steve Midgley of the Federal Learning Registry, who advocates putting sensors and cameras in Smartboards to collect data on classroom performance.

To my knowledge, they haven’t once questioned the United Way of Salt Lake, who recently developed a video encouraging parents to waive their Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) rights so that organizations across the city can share sensitive student information with one another, nor have they warned the public about the extent of information being stored about children in State Longitudinal Databases.

Have you seen any reports on NBC News about the effort to include “social-emotional” data about children in school report cards, or plans from the World Economic Forum to use technology to teach these skills by embedding data collection into “innovative new technologies – such as wearable devices, virtual reality and apps – [that] enable students to master important social and emotional skills” ?

Meanwhile – though the FBI is right to point out the threat of child identity fraud and the potential  risk of exploitation – there was nothing in the PSA warning about the biggest hucksters of them all: Wall Street bankers who are determined to use data to restructure the way we pay for social services in order to create a trillion dollar derivatives market.

FBI?  It’s not just the dolls you should be warning us about.




Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

One thought on “Dear FBI: It’s Not Just the Dolls You Should Be Worried About.”

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