Data Points: From report cards to promotions

Data Points: From report cards to promotions

From classroom assignments to promotions at work, learn about the kind of data that is generated and collected in work environments and how it influences our educational and professional experiences.
​Sarah Villeneuve
Policy Analyst
Stephanie Fielding
Policy & Research Analyst
December 3, 2019
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Education and employment are data-rich areas, particularly when it comes to individual performances, habits, and behaviours. Digital tools are becoming increasingly commonplace in both education and employment across Canada to track how students and employees are progressing, identify areas where they may need to improve, and even provide personalized behavioural nudges. However, concerns have been raised about the increase in data collection, and the associated privacy and security risks.

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"Technology within this domain ranges from digital student records to interactive whiteboards to educational apps and online courses with facial recognition used to track student interest and attention."

Education

Many digital education tools improve the educational experience by making collaborating easier, enabling educators to provide more personalized feedback, tracking student progress, and making the transfer of student records more efficient. Technology within this domain ranges from digital student records to interactive whiteboards to educational apps and online courses with facial recognition used to track student interest and attention.[1] While wearables for educational purposes are being developed, they are not yet widely used. Software, and online-based educational programs in particular, are increasingly being used as alternatives to cost prohibitive educational programs.

Digital educational tools can collect a range of information about students, including personal information such as their name and date of birth, along with test results, attendance, participation during class, and disciplinary actions.[2] Data collected by these tools, such as students’ understanding of topics, can even be used to inform more personalized curriculum development, as well as areas where educators themselves can improve or modify their teaching style.

Today, data collection in education begins when students enter preschool, and, in some ways, continues even past the point of graduation, such as through alumni employment surveys or student loan debt surveys.[3] Unsurprisingly, data generated in the classroom has become a contentious topic in the digital data privacy debate, particularly because it concerns the rights of minors. Some of the main concerns center around misuse. Centralizing student data makes it more vulnerable to hackers, who could gain access and expose student records. Data generated in the classroom, or while using school-issued tools, could also be monetized by service providers and academic institutions.[4]

"As of 2019, Duolingo has 300 million global users who are able to choose from 22 languages."

Educational Apps

Today, there are a number of ways to continue learning outside of the traditional classroom environment. An increasingly common way to do this is through educational apps. While some of these apps are tailored to younger age groups, such as Fish School or Kids Numbers and Math, there is an increasing number being made accessible to adults and people of all ages.

Duolingo is a popular educational platform that uses both app and web-based software to teach languages for all ages. The app is free to download on smartphones and tablets, making it accessible to anyone interested in learning a new language or improving their skills. As of 2019, Duolingo has 300 million global users who are able to choose from 22 languages.[5] 

To register for Duolingo, users will need to provide personal information such as their name, email address, and date of birth. If users sign up for premium (paid) Duolingo features, the company will record their payment information. When users partake in live speaking lessons or tests over the app, they permit the app to have access to their microphone. Users also have the choice of using their webcam during the lesson. Audio, and video if used, will be recorded and stored by Duolingo until the user’s account has been deleted. According to Duolingo’s Privacy Policy, this data is used to improve lesson delivery and learning outcomes.[6] In the case of tests, users may also need to provide information such as their secondary school name, previous test scores, a copy of current government-issued ID, and a photo of themselves.[7] Duolingo also collects information about users through third parties, and uses cookies to track user activity while they are using Duolingo services. Personal and activity information may also be used for targeted advertising campaigns from Duolingo or members of the Network Advertising Initiative. Similar apps include Babbel and Mondly.

"According to Google’s privacy agreement, schools own the data generated from the use of Google for Education by their students and educators."

In-Classroom Software

There are a number of software applications that enable teachers to assign and monitor student work and allow students to easily collaborate with each other on projects. Some applications, such as Bloomz and ParentSquare, help parents stay informed about their child’s in-class activities and behaviours by allowing teachers to share class updates, photos, videos, and reminders.

Several private technology companies, such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, have developed partnerships with educational institutions. These partnerships typically involve the tech company offering free or reduced-cost use of their software platforms, and sometimes funding certain aspects of the curriculum (such as STEM courses). In 2018, Amazon launched its Amazon Future Engineer program to help underprivileged kids and underserved communities access computer science education. As part of this program, Amazon funds introductory and Advanced Placement computer science classes in schools across the United States.[8] As of February 2019, 1,000 high schools had partnered with Amazon.[9] All participating students receive free membership to AWS Educate, which provides students with computing power in the AWS Cloud.[10] 

Google for Education is a popular package used in many educational institutions across Canada. This package includes software G Suite for Education tools, such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Drive, and Google Classroom, along with Chromebooks — inexpensive laptops — to use them. The Google Classroom application enables teachers to assign and manage coursework, distribute and grade assignments, and provide feedback to students.[11] Classroom helps educators track student progress, allowing them to identify areas where they may need extra help and personalized feedback.

According to Google’s privacy agreement, schools own the data generated from the use of Google for Education by their students and educators.[12] Google also claims it does not collect student data for advertising purposes or sell it to third parties — in fact, the platform is ad-free. However, Google does collect information such as location and GPS data, as well as users’ mobile network and phone number, if administrators enable the location history function — a feature that is disabled by default.[13]

In 2014, Google faced a lawsuit over claims it accessed student emails and used this information to deliver targeted advertisements on the sites students visited the most outside of the classroom.[14] A year later, in 2015, Google violated its privacy agreement by collecting and mining student search data via Google for Education Chromebooks. Although this data was used for non-advertisement purposes, critics claimed that if Google wants to use classroom data to better its products, it would need to obtain consent from parents.[15] 

"...wearable devices are being integrated into the workplace, enabling employers to monitor and incentivize employees through data-driven feedback."

Employment

The nature of work has changed rapidly in the past decade, with digital technologies becoming more and more integrated into daily activities and workplace processes. Digital tools, including digital hiring tools, collaborative cloud computing platforms, enterprise risk management (ERM) tools, and consumer relationship management (CMR) systems are quickly becoming standard in both the private and public sectors. Software, such as collaborative, cloud-based software suites GSuite and Office 365, are now essential to many employees and employers, enabling co-creation, sharing, and the accessibility of documents remotely with ease. In some cases, wearable devices are being integrated into the workplace, enabling employers to monitor and incentivize employees through data-driven feedback. Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as heat sensors, are also on the rise to track employee habits on location. While these tools bring benefits to the workplace, most require personal data to function, raising questions about employee privacy, security, and control over personal data.

"Time-tracking software enables employers to more efficiently track employees’ time, including when they arrive at and leave work, as well as any breaks they take throughout the day."

Software

Many workplaces have adopted software to improve their day-to-day processes. Along with providing efficiency, these tools collect enormous amounts of data on employees. Corporate software packages, such as Google’s G Suite or Microsoft’s Outlook 365, allow employers to track employee usage, such as previous file versions or real-time activity within Google docs.[16] Email and message archiving software, such as Barracuda, reduce companies’ local storage needs, while ensuring off-site storage for compliance. Time-tracking software enables employers to more efficiently track employees’ time, including when they arrive at and leave work, as well as any breaks they take throughout the day. Keylogger software enables companies to record keystrokes typed on an employee’s computer, and can be used, for example, to monitor productivity or ensure they do not leak confidential information.[17] CRM software, such as SalesForce or Nutshell, is now necessary for organizations with large customer networks to record and store customer information. Even before employment, data-driven hiring tools, such as Ideal, screen candidates’ applications and resumes, and automatically grade them based on best fit.

Kronos is a popular time-tracking software that is used by a number of organizations in Canada, including Staples, the University of Toronto, and Vancouver Airport Authority. Kronos offers different options for how employees can log their time. Employers can choose to have their employees clock in and out using telephone-based software, which requires employees to call a number and record their name. Alternatively, employers can require employees to log their time on a device, such as a laptop or tablet, connected to the Kronos system using an ID number and password. Badges are another option, requiring employees to swipe a badge to clock in and out. An increasingly popular option is the use of biometric terminals. Kronos takes a scan of employees’ fingerprints and converts these into encrypted mathematical representations.[18] Biometrics are an attractive option for organizations seeking to minimize the risk of issues such as employee time theft or identity theft.[19] Civil liberty and privacy advocates have criticized the use of employees’ biometric data by organizations, citing that there is no guarantee that this information will be kept safe from attacks.[20] There have been several class action lawsuits in the United States over the misuse of Kronos biometric data.[21]

In Canada, other surveillance software is being used to monitor workers’ movements and production levels. An article published by Data & Society earlier in September 2019 details how migrant workers employed on an undisclosed farm in Southwestern Ontario are required to wear smartwatches and use biometric scanners to access greenhouses.[22] Workers report that they were not provided with data collection policies or asked for their consent, and are unaware as to how long their data will be stored once they are no longer employed.

"Sociometric badges are a new but growing wearable option for organizations seeking to monitor employee performance and team dynamics."

Wearables

An increasing number of wearable devices are being adopted in the workplace, including smart wristbands, smart glasses, and badges. These tools are increasingly encouraged, and at times declared mandatory for some jobs.[23] Organizations choose to use this technology for a variety of reasons. One reason is that these devices enable organizations to monitor their employees’ wellbeing while they are in the workplace. This includes smart wristbands, such as Samsung’s Gear S3, that collect data on employees’ heart rate, body temperature, and location, as well as sending nudges or reminders to move if they have been sitting too long.[24] [25] Wearables could also be used to measure employee productivity and engagement within the workplace. However, when mandatory, wearables could force employees to trade privacy for employment. Employers, too, face risks when they use this technology, as it could be the basis for privacy lawsuits or data breaches.  

Sociometric badges are a new but growing wearable option for organizations seeking to monitor employee performance and team dynamics.[26] These badges measure employee communication, such as face-to-face conversations and web-based communications, as well as location and activities. Alternatively, organizations adopt wearables to help employees perform the tasks they are assigned and keep them safe, particularly in labour-intensive or hazardous workplaces, when combined with IoT sensors.[27] Wearables can augment employees’ physical and perceptual capabilities, enabling them to perform tasks safely.[28] Audi, for example, is piloting the use of exoskeletons to reduce assembly workers’ risk of physical injury.[29] 

The Humanyze sociometric badge includes sensors to measure whether the individual is moving, as well as their proximity to other badged employees and beacons, and the duration of in-person interactions with those individuals.[30] Humanyze’s badge also includes a built-in microphone which monitors the frequency of employee conversations, as well as how long individuals spend talking or listening.[31] Humanyze collects communication “metadata” (patterns and data about the data), as opposed to content information. The badge also tracks employee location on premise. This data can be aggregated to help managers understand what factors may be helping or hurting team cohesion.[32] Humanyze also does not collect personally-identifiable information or confidential information. Participants can view their personal data on a dashboard, showing how they spend their time as well as what factors contribute to them being creative, collaborative, and productive. Managers and employers can only view aggregate team-level data. Humanyze requires employers to obtain consent from employees who will be using the badges. Humanyze’s Consent Form claims that the use of Humanyze badges by employees of customer organizations is completely voluntary.[33] 

Humanyze’s sociometric badges have been used by Deloitte Canada, who, in 2014, piloted this tool to gain insight into how its newly redesigned office would impact employee collaboration and behaviour. With the insights generated from employee use of Humanyze’s badge, Deloitte was able to see which areas were popular, and which weren’t being used as frequently as they expected, such as treadmills in the gym.[34] These insights would help to inform the redesigning of other offices across Canada. However, it remains unclear whether Deloitte could use this data for other purposes, as well as how long it intends to keep this data.

This is part of a series of articles exploring personal data collection practices in Canada. Check out our previous article on Traveling + Commuting, and stay tuned for our next article on Shopping.

Technology and policy related to this topic are constantly evolving. If you think we have missed something or see an error please contact Sarah Villeneuve (sarah.villeneuve@ryerson.ca). If you want to get involved in subsequent phases of this project, apply here.


[1] Nestor AI. n.d. “Nestor AI: The First AI-Powered Online Learning System.” Nestor Artificial Intelligence. n.d. https://nestor-ai.com/.

[2] “Your Child’s School Record: What’s In It, How to Get It, and How to Change It | Lawyers.Com.” Accessed October 25, 2019. https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/research/education-law/does-my-child-have-a-permanent-school-record.html.

[3] See for example: “The Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Linkage Platform | Canadian Research Data Centre Network.” Accessed October 25, 2019. https://crdcn.org/article/education-and-labour-market-longitudinal-linkage-platform.

[4] “What Parents Need To Know About Big Data And Student Privacy : All Tech Considered : NPR.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2014/04/28/305715935/what-parents-need-to-know-about-big-data-and-student-privacy.

[5] “Duolingo Hires Its First Chief Marketing Officer as Active User Numbers Stagnate but Revenue Grows – TechCrunch.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://techcrunch.com/2018/08/01/duolingo-hires-its-first-chief-marketing-officer-as-active-user-numbers-stagnate/.

[6] Duolingo. “Learn a Language for Free.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.duolingo.com/privacy.

[7] Duolingo. “Learn a Language for Free.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.duolingo.com/privacy.

[8] “Amazon Launches ‘Amazon Future Engineer’ Program to Support Computer Science Education – GeekWire.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.geekwire.com/2018/amazon-launches-amazon-future-engineer-program-tries-next-education-play/.

[9] Amazon.com, Inc. – Press Room. “Amazon Future Engineer Brings Computer Science Courses to More Than 1,000 High Schools in Underprivileged Communities Across All 50 States.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://press.aboutamazon.com/news-releases/news-release-details/amazon-future-engineer-brings-computer-science-courses-more-1000.

[10] TechCrunch. “Amazon to Fund Computer Science Classes in over 130 NYC High Schools.” Accessed October 18, 2019. http://social.techcrunch.com/2019/01/29/amazon-to-fund-computer-science-classes-in-over-130-nyc-high-schools/.

[11] Google for Education. “Classroom: Manage Teaching and Learning.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://edu.google.com/products/classroom/.

[12] Google for Education. “Privacy & Security Center.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://edu.google.com/why-google/privacy-security/.

[13]  Desson, Craig. 2018. “As Google for Education Tools Enter Classrooms across Canada, Some Parents Are Asking to Opt-out | CBC Radio.” CBC News, June 11, 2018. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/spark/401-google-for-education-1.4694935/as-google-for-education-tools-enter-classrooms-across-canada-some-parents-are-asking-to-opt-out-1.4694939.

[14] “Google Collected Data on Schoolchildren Without Permission | WIRED.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.wired.com/2015/12/google-collected-data-on-schoolchildren-without-permission/.  

[15] “Google Collected Data on Schoolchildren Without Permission | WIRED.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.wired.com/2015/12/google-collected-data-on-schoolchildren-without-permission/.

[16] Tucker, Laura. “Google to Allow Employers to Track Their Staff Using G Suite.” Make Tech Easier, September 20, 2018. https://www.maketecheasier.com/google-employers-track-g-suite/.

[17] “Monitor Your Employees by Utilizing Software Keylogger Solutions.” Accessed October 18, 2019. http://www.refog.com.

[18] “The Implementation of Biometric Identification Systems in Quebec: Convenience Is Not Enough!” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://mcmillan.ca/the-implementation-of-biometric-identification-systems-in-Quebec-convenience-is-not-enough.

[19] m2sys. “Do Employees Have a Right to Refuse Enrollment in a Biometric System?” M2SYS Blog On Biometric Technology (blog), August 5, 2011. http://www.m2sys.com/blog/retail-point-of-sale/do-employees-have-a-right-to-refuse-enrollment-in-a-biometric-system/.

[20] m2sys. “Do Employees Have a Right to Refuse Enrollment in a Biometric System?” M2SYS Blog On Biometric Technology (blog), August 5, 2011. http://www.m2sys.com/blog/retail-point-of-sale/do-employees-have-a-right-to-refuse-enrollment-in-a-biometric-system/.

[21] “NFI, Kronos Hit with Biometric Information Privacy Class Action in Illinois.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.classaction.org/news/nfi-kronos-hit-with-biometric-information-privacy-class-action-in-illinois.

[22] Ramsaroop, C. (2019). Reality Check 101: Rethinking the impact of automation and surveillance on farm workers. [online] Medium. Available at: https://points.datasociety.net/reality-check-101-c6e501c3b9a3 [Accessed 15 Oct. 2019].

[23] Nguyen, Chuong. 2015. “Here’s How IBM Is Getting Employees to Use the Apple Watch | TechRadar.” Techradar, October 27, 2015. https://www.techradar.com/news/wearables/here-s-how-ibm-is-getting-employees-to-use-the-apple-watch-1307604.

[24] wearable technology, wearable technology for business, wearables at work, benefits of wearable technology in business, wearable solutions. “Wearable Technology for Business | Wearables at Work | Samsung Business.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.samsung.com/us/business/solutions/topics/wearables/.

[25] Samsung Business Insights. “How Wearables Can Help Driver Fitness Programs Succeed,” December 20, 2017. https://insights.samsung.com/2017/12/20/how-wearables-can-help-driver-fitness-programs-succeed/.

[26] Humanyze. “Humanyze – Analytics For Better Performance.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.humanyze.com/.

[28] “Improving Worker Safety with Wearables – Internet of Things Blog.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.ibm.com/blogs/internet-of-things/worker-safety-and-wearables/.

[29] Audi. “Audi Exoskeleton Makes Workers Bionic, Could Reduce Back Injuries.” Motor1.com. Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.motor1.com/news/224973/audi-exoskeleton-test-germany/.

[30] Humanyze. “Data Privacy Is A First Principle At Humanyze.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.humanyze.com/data-privacy/.

[31] “How ‘People Analytics’ Is Transforming Human Resources.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.canadianbusiness.com/innovation/how-people-analytics-is-transforming-human-resources/.

[32] “People Analytics: The IoT in Human Resources | Deloitte Insights.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/internet-of-things/people-analytics-iot-human-resources.html.

[33] “2017-09-Sample-Consent-Form-Badge-Data.Pdf.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.humanyze.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2017-09-Sample-Consent-Form-Badge-Data.pdf.

[34] “How ‘People Analytics’ Is Transforming Human Resources.” Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.canadianbusiness.com/innovation/how-people-analytics-is-transforming-human-resources/.

For media enquiries, please contact Coralie D’Souza, Director of Communications, Events + Community Relations at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

​Sarah Villeneuve
Policy Analyst
Stephanie Fielding
Policy & Research Analyst
December 3, 2019
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