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Facebook’s Child Workforce

October 21, 2016

I’ve become comfortable with my gadfly role in technology. I know that Facebook would characterize their new “personalized learning” initiative, Summit Basecamp, as innovative if not downright charitable (hat tip Leonie Haimson). But again, gadly.

What gets to me is how the students involved – about 20,000 students in more than 100 charter and traditional public schools – are really no more than an experimental and unpaid workforce, spending classroom hours training the Summit algorithm and getting no guarantee in return of real learning.

Their parents, moreover, are being pressured to sign away all sorts of privacy rights for those kids. And, get this, Basecamp “require disputes to be resolved through arbitration, essentially barring a student’s family from suing if they think data has been misused.” Here’s the quote from the article that got me seriously annoyed, from the Summit CEO Diane Tavenner herself:

“We’re offering this for free to people,” she said. “If we don’t protect the organization, anyone could sue us for anything — which seems crazy to me.”

To recap. Facebook gets these kids to train their algorithm for free, whilst removing them from their classroom time, offering no evidence that they will learn anything, making sure that they’ll be able to use the childrens’ data for everything short of targeted ads, and also ensuring the parents can’t even hire a lawyer to complain. That sounds like a truly terrible deal.

Here’s the thing. The kids involved are often poor, often minority. They are the most surveilled generation and the most surveilled subpopulation out there, ever. We have to start doing better for them than unpaid work for Facebook.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Peter
    October 21, 2016 at 9:44 am

    “We’re offering this for free to people” – Whenever something is free, then you are the product.


  2. October 21, 2016 at 9:52 am

    Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth! What’s the alternative? Would these kids really be better off without these tools? I’m willing to bet: No!

    My older daughter did Stanford EPGY and Hopkins CTY among other programs. Today she sports a PhD after her name.

    Why deny similar benefits to lower income students? Did you look at the curricula?

    I’m sorry but this looks like a very positive thing to me.


    • Peter
      October 21, 2016 at 9:57 am

      You may be right, but this doesnt justify what they can do with the children’s personal data – you mean that the personal data is the price to pay for getting whatever they are getting, and that this is a fair deal?


    • October 21, 2016 at 10:22 am

      Can you compare the two programs on their privacy rights? Did your daughter give up her right to sue people to attend her program?


    • October 23, 2016 at 11:22 am

      Oh please. This is piloted at my kids’ school, I refused to sign, and I’m neither low-income or stupid. The alternative is individualized learning from an actual human, with a feedback loop that requires human interaction, an actual textbook, and time to read, reflect, and ask questions.


    • October 23, 2016 at 11:24 am

      Also – Summit Basecamp is not curricula per se; it’s the method by which curricula is delivered.


  3. October 21, 2016 at 10:20 am

    I really appreciate you pointing this out. I hope your platform grows over time.

    Let me know if I can help.


  4. aa
    October 21, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    I’m pretty sure the way the court system in this country works is that, in fact, anyone can sue anyone for anything. Signing away that right is what is crazy.


  5. Lars
    October 24, 2016 at 11:44 am

    “We’re offering this for free to people,” she said. “If we don’t protect the organization, anyone could sue us for anything — which seems crazy to me.”

    The Grinch put it best: “The impudence! The audacity! The unmitigated gall!”


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