A major internet filtering company will stop collecting and selling the web habits of millions of schoolchildren who use its product after privacy groups howled and the Defense Department had second thoughts, the company disclosed Feb. 22.
N2H2 Inc., whose “Bess” internet filtering solution is used by a reported 14 million students in the United States and recently was voted as the best internet filter available by eSchool News readers, said it has stopped selling its “Class Clicks” list that reports the web sites students visit on the internet and how much time they spend at each one.
After N2H2 announced its deal with marketing research firm Roper Starch Worldwide last September, privacy groups called the filtering company a “corporate predator” and were incensed over reports the information would be sold to the Defense Department for recruiting.
“It is not the purpose of the public schools to abet corporations that spy on the web browsing of schoolchildren,” said Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert, a Washington-based group targeting commercialism in schools.
The Bess filter is used by 40 percent of the schools that use internet filters to screen out objectionable web sites. N2H2 spokesman Allen Goldblatt said his company and Roper Starch “mutually decided” to drop the relationship.
“From our end, this was a distraction for us,” Goldblatt said. “What we do is work on filtering.”
Goldblatt said that no personally identifiable data about kids were ever collected or sold. Federal law prohibits collection or sale of a child’s personal information without parental permission.
“Our business is protecting kids. We never would, never have, and never will jeopardize anyone’s privacy,” Goldblatt said. “I think any time you have a great public debate about privacy issues …, this is a good thing.” The company will stop providing all reports, Goldblatt said.
After writing to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to stop the deal, Ruskin received a letter from the department saying that, while learning how kids used military web sites would be “appealing,” the department had second thoughts.
Ruskin called N2H2’s announcement a victory, saying many school administrators did not know about the collection of data and objected to its use.
“It’s good that N2H2 is going to stop its schoolroom snooping,” Ruskin said.
For its part, N2H2 says it has been distributing this information for more than a year, including monthly dispatches of data to the education press for dissemination to educators. The company said it began collecting the information to help educators use the internet more effectively during instruction.