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Nonprofit Wins $500K to Make Safety Labels for School Apps

The grant looks to build off of last year's Internet Safety Labs study which noted that almost all ed-tech apps had shared students' personal info with third parties. New funding will allow the research to continue.

Student in learning process, back view. Kid sitting behind his desk studying online using his computer flat vector illustration with work table, school backpack, books globe, etc.
The software safety testing nonprofit Internet Safety Labs (ISL) recently received a nearly $500,000 grant from the Internet Society Foundation to continue researching the safety and security of more than 1,700 digital learning apps, a recent announcement said.

The grant follows ISL’s 2022 report K-12 Edtech Safety Benchmark — Part 1, which found that 96 percent of school apps share children’s personal information with third parties, usually for marketing or monetization purposes. The report, based on data from 663 U.S. schools covering more than 455,000 students across all 50 states, concluded that many ed-tech tools “pose substantial privacy and safety risks to children.”

ISL will use its new funds to create and publish interactive charts and graphs that will provide an in-depth look at school apps’ scores and ed-tech safety practices, which will include state-by-state and school-by-school breakdowns of the data in the first report, as well as assigning “safety labels” to the apps included in part one of the study. The research comes amid growing concerns about student data privacy protections, as well as efforts to strengthen them in states such as Maryland, where lawmakers passed a bill last year to prohibit the collection of student information for marketing or advertising.

“Our mission is to objectively measure and publish the safety of connected, software-driven technologies so that people and communities are safe from unreasonable harm,” Lisa LeVasseur, executive director of Internet Safety Labs said in the statement. “This is currently a missing discipline in the world. With the ISOC Foundation’s support, we strive to publish research that simultaneously educates all people on the potential risks of technology, and be a change agent, stimulating technology developers to produce safer software.”

According to the announcement, ISL’s ongoing research hopes to determine whether software tools are being properly tested for safety before being made commercially available, among other remaining questions.

“We’re excited to support Internet Safety Lab’s second phase of this project to further examine the safety of K-12 ed tech in the U.S., which directly aligns with our mission to ensure that the Internet is open, connected, secure and trustworthy for all,” said Maiko Nakagaki, program officer for the Internet Society Foundation.