Quick Guide: Making Sure Apps and Sites Are Safe

Thursday, May 14, 2015 -- Scott Sterling

It seems like every day we hear about some new app or website that would be the perfect tool for an upcoming lesson. Many teachers simply sign up themselves (and perhaps their students) for those products and deliver their lessons without a second thought.

The truth is that, while most teachers are cognizant of online safety when it comes to students’ personal details, likenesses, and social networking, they don’t realize that many of the high-tech tools we’ve grown accustomed to using are exploitive, if not dangerous, for our students. Here’s what to look for:

Read the privacy policy

Every website and service has a privacy policy. Some are easier to find than others. A good rule of thumb is that if the policy is hard to find, you probably won’t like what’s inside. What you’re looking for is what sites and apps do with any information that you give them. For example, say it’s a site where students can create presentations. What does the site do with the uploaded images? Some sites, according to their policies, are allowed to sell any images that come through their service.

Mold your usage to the policy

Under the previous example, maybe you’re comfortable with the site using your students’ intellectual property because the service is so good. That’s your call. But, with the site selling images, you want to make sure that no recognizable visuals of students, such as faces, appear in their presentations. They could turn up in the least appropriate places imaginable.

There’s usually a reason that apps are free

The Internet was built on open sharing of information. The majority of its usages are free to the public. There are some exceptions, but if organizations have spent a lot of time and effort making something, they probably aren’t letting you use it for “free.” Often, there are strings attached.

Perhaps the site or app has an angel investor, like freerice.com. Maybe it runs advertising, which you might be able to live with depending on what is being advertised. Or—the bad one—maybe it sells your students’ information and creations to third parties. Make sure that you know what the business model is before signing up.

Always keep a watchful eye

Some sites or apps might initially look great—no ads and a clean privacy policy. Then, six months later, the policy changes (which happens all the time). So does the business model. Now, the site or app is selling information and has pop-ups all over the place. If students are using it, you should know about it and what’s happening when they are on it.

Looking for a resource to determine if the apps and sites you utilize are safe? Common Sense Media has created Graphite, a rating of apps, games, and websites designed for the classroom. One of the components of their ratings is safety.

Interested in teaching your students about safe app and Internet practices? Check out our new EducationCity subject - computing!

 

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