With COVID-19 finally hitting New Hampshire (and Massachusetts),
my kids' school switched
Seems like online learning is working mostly OK-ish....
It's nice that we have [the school's guidance counselor] going over "responsible digital citizenship",
online safety protocols, etc. I wish the "platform choice" was more in-line with that....
I really wish [the school] was using something more trustworthy and socially responsible than Google--
and there are definitely options.
There are other tools that are actually more functional as well, though that's kind of secondary concern
from my perspective as a parent....
Believe me, as an engineer having worked on the leading edge of high tech for the last 20 years,
I really do want my kids to learn about technology and computing...,
I just am not comfortable at all with the idea of "tech that learns about my children"--
and so I just can't bring myself to send voice or video footage of my kids to
Google or any other company that has such a bad reputation with respect
to ongoing violations of user privacy (including reading their user's e-mail
and documents, looking at their `private' photos, running facial-recognition
and voice-recognition, using people's faces to train facial-recognition systems
without getting their permission....
As you know, we've had a standing "photographic non-consent" order with the school for years now
regarding use of our children's likenesses in advertising and any distribution
of video or photographs other than publication in the printed yearbook;
this is out of respect and conern for our children's privacy and their right
to keep control of their privacy as they grow up, and it should be obvious
that the concerns about sharing photographs and video apply doubly so
to ongoing video-chats that last for many hours a day, 5 days a week,
for weeks or months on end. It would be different if the service (and company)
being put in the trusted position of managing video streams were a well-known
advocate and protector of user privacy instead of a frequent violator.
One tool I mentioned when we were at the school last week was Jitsi Meet:
In additional to "better citizenry", it does actually seem to work better--with a less clunky UI
and even some nice extra features like:
- "raise your hand" button that marks participants as waiting to be called on
- a "follow me" option that automatically pins everyone's views to the teacher
- "mute this person" and "mute everyone" actions to deal with hot mics
- a "kick out" action to deal with "someone's logged in twice at the same
time which is causing problems and they can't figure out how to close their extra login"
- much more usable URLs / conference IDs as well...
Another tool I know of is BigBlueButton, which is what a lot of schools are using these days
(I believe they usually buy support as part of some sort of e-learning services package like MoodleCloud;
I know [my wife] uses it frequently as part of some classes at [her college]).
Both Jitsi and BigBlueButton have much better track-records regarding respect of user privacy than Google does,
and both systems are frankly built and managed in a much socially-responsible way--
where everything about how the system works is open for peer review (and public review!)
and the engineers are directly accessible to the public, all in a way that's very strongly
compliant with the highest educational ideals that we try to maintain:
that everyone who wants to know things work should be allowed to learn and dig in to whatever
extent they're interested, and barriers to self-actualization are kept as low as possible.
I'd actually love to have my kids using either of those in their full capacities--
including video/audio chat, because sharing voice and video with the people in class
But sharing voice and video with the people and machinery at Google has negative value;
so as long as we're stuck with Google, we'll have to opt out of the voice and video features.