Home > Uncategorized > The continued surveillance of poor black kids

The continued surveillance of poor black kids

January 26, 2016

There’s a new data-driven app out there called Kinvolved, featured this morning in the New York Times, and it’s exactly my worst fear. It tracks Harlem school children’s whereabouts, sending text messages to parents when they are tardy or absent from school.


When you look at the user agreement, it seems to say that the data is relatively safe and presumably not available for resale to marketers, but they also say they are allowed to change the agreement at any time.

Here’s my specific fear: what about when they go out of business? I’m thinking the data might be valuable at that point, and their investors might want some money back. And there’s a market, too: data brokers would love to get their grubby little hands on such data to add a layer to their profiles of poor black and brown kids.

This is a situation where FERPA, which is the federal child privacy law, is clearly not strong enough. Right now FERPA allows Kinvolved to be designated as “school officials” who have a “legitimate interest” in using and accessing any education records. And once they have that data, I don’t think there are real constraints to its use.

I’m not singling out Kinvolved for bad intentions; for all I know they mean well and they might even help some kids and families. But I don’t think the data the app is generating is being adequately protected, and it is yet again data concerning the nation’s most vulnerable population.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 26, 2016 at 7:26 am

    1. Surely the parent has to agree to this.
    2. I get the impression from the media and blogspace that there are no poor white kids. Perhaps poverty affects ones skin color.
    3.Separate matter – did you see this, about data mashing?



    • January 26, 2016 at 11:00 am

      I also spotted that on StackExchange last month and it is indeed pricelessly stupid.


    • January 26, 2016 at 11:02 am

      1. Based on the article, I’d say it looks opt-out.
      2. Nope, it’s just that we more readily surveil certain poor kids.
      3. Holy crap, people.


  2. January 26, 2016 at 9:29 am

    The app world has gone crazy and it’s not only for poor black kids, but everywhere. As I said we need to boycott some of the portfolios of the Silicon Valley VCs. Take a look at this, medication adherence compliance. Do you want your pharmacy benefit manager for your prescriptions to force you to use an app like this? These VCs would not do this themselves by taking a “pill selfie” to prove that you took a pill.


    12 Million dollars wasted of VC money on this, and add on $7 million from the NIH. The video at their site shows a nice happy person riding a bike and doing her seflie, not how people work in the real world. This stuff that pharmacy benefit managers collect, gets sold to your insurance company too. United Healthcare for one is about the 2nd biggest data seller for medical information in the US. Take a look at the link as well on the “scoring” done by pharmacy benefit managers and this is done now using metrics that have nothing to do with taking your medications. Express Scripts brags about it as well. If you are male, seeing a female MD,ding. If they don’t find enough credit card data to show you fill your prescriptions,then you default to non compliant and are “scored” an Outlier.

    Jus think of it, would you do this? Of course not as we don’t want this Orwellian shadow hanging over all of us and scoring us into nothing but a risk factor walking this earth.


  3. January 26, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Unless you have an alternative way to make sure kids attend school and hopefully learn something, I think this is a positive step. Otherwise we’re back to the usual “failure of schools.”


    • January 26, 2016 at 10:53 am

      We don’t know how well this works. And we also don’t know how bad the worst case is for the kids whose data gets leaked or sold.


      • January 26, 2016 at 11:04 am

        We also know that the status quo of doing nothing, doesn’t work. So it’s time to try out new ideas. I wish we could somehow motivate more parental involvement, but some parents must work long hours and more than one job, and some just don’t care.


        • January 26, 2016 at 11:05 am

          Yes, I’d like to try out new ideas, but I’d like FERPA to actually protect kids too.


        • January 26, 2016 at 8:49 pm

          “First, do no harm.” — I’m old enough that every time I’ve heard someone brush off criticism with “but we must do something”, I’ve gotten to see it collapse in failure later on.


        • January 26, 2016 at 8:57 pm

          You mean after 100 years or more of failure, you still would not want to change anything, and then later blame the schools for not doing anything? There is a tradeoff here, and the downside of using the new tracking system is much less than the downside of letting these kids fail.


        • January 27, 2016 at 1:08 am



  4. Rachel Lynne
    January 26, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    The designation of app developers as ‘school officials’ is beyond bizarre to me. How in the world did they arrange that?

    As someone working in the nonprofit app/space, I have a cynical streak a mile wide about the “app for that” mentality to seriously complex problems like homelessness, hunger, poverty, etc. But, I really do want to know: what’s the way to do this right? Like the article says, information to the parent’s doesn’t address the root cause, but it could be a step in the right direction. What if Kinvolved sells the messaging system to the schools and is totally taken out of the data collection process, would that be adequate?


  1. February 11, 2016 at 2:05 pm
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