Facebook’s Child Workforce
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.