A new report says schools are “soft targets” for tech companies that want to collect students’ personal data in order to market to them, the Washington Post reports.

The University of Colorado Boulder published its 18th annual study, titled “Learning to be Watched: Surveillance Culture at School,” on Tuesday.

According to the report, schools that are eager to accept (often free) technology are making their students vulnerable. By tracking the students’ online activities, the companies are able to collect significant amounts of data about them, which can be sold to other companies or used for targeted advertising to the children.

Beyond privacy concerns, the report warns that the companies can influence how the students think and act. The researchers reject the data collectors’ claim that they cannot identify the children by name. Researchers say even if that’s true, the marketers collect enough information to follow individual students online and model their “interests, social networks, personalities, vulnerabilities, desires and aspirations.”

The researchers explain:

“By feeding children ads and other content personalized to appeal specifically to them, and also by choosing what not to show them, marketers influence children’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. As they do, they also test, adjust, and perfect their models of influence — and then track and target some more.”

According to the report, the food industry is a leader in developing marketing methods to reach children online. And unfortunately, according to the researchers, they are peddling high fat and sugar foods that are fueling the rise in obesity and diabetes among young people.

The researchers also say the marketers threaten the psychological health of vulnerable teenagers. They note that the companies can use peer pressure and image advertising to exploit adolescents.

The study points to Google and Facebook as the two industry giants that data mine in schools—noting the industry tries to influence elected officials to avoid more regulations.

SOURCE: Washington Post | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty

SEE ALSO:

What Parents Need to Know About The Data Google Collects On Students

Obama Launches Computer Science Initiative At Oakland High School

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