I know it sounds like a small thing, but I am shocked at how often professionals I follow, or those who present at big educational conferences on behalf of a professional organization, blatantly ignore TOU and requirements under the U.S. federal law called COPPA - the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. It makes me crazy to see sites that have GREAT educational services and tools for kids and who advertise themselves to teachers and the education space and yet their TOU are not friendly for kids under 13. And let's face it - "children under 13" applies to a whole lot of kids in the K-12 world. I love the enthusiasm of a tech savvy teacher or colleague who finds a neat site and wants to dive right in with their students... but cringe when they've started using the site with kids under 13 without being aware of the site's legal requirements (and their requirements) when being used with students first.
COPPA originally went into effect in April of 2000, but a new update that went into effect this year - on July 1, 2013 - has further stipulations on website owners and includes additional requirements for parental notice and consent, and some of the amended obligations are even more strict than they were previously.
|Excerpt from Twitter's TOU|
So now you're thinking... WHAT DO I DO?!
Think of it this way: if an online site, service, or tool has a sign-up requirement, children 13 and under can't use it, or at least won't be able to use it right out of the box. You'll have to see if it's allowed at all under the site's terms, or if there's a way to use it if you seek parental notice and collect consent prior to use. A red flag is the requirement of an email address during the registration process, since an email address is an indicator that personal information will be collected. And just because a site doesn't ask for an email address during sign-up doesn't mean it's automatically okay for children under 13, though, either... you still always have to look at the Terms. Even if you teach kids over 13, many sites still require all minors (18 and under) to obtain parental consent before use. It all depends on how much red tape the website operator wants to deal with and be responsible for, so your mileage may vary.
The excuse that technology moves so fast that we as educators don't have time to check the TOU of every single site or service just doesn't cut it anymore. Especially when you teach the younger crowd that is directly affected by this federal law. It has always been a teacher's professional responsibility to keep kids safe, we all know that. Before the digital shift, this seemed very black and white, but since most classrooms have some kind of online component or access these days, that responsibility has to extend to the online space as well. With a new frontier comes new rules and practices and it sure feels like a whole lot of grey area right now. The best we can do is educate ourselves and try our best to keep up with the rapidly moving pace of technology AND keep kids safe at the same time.