Terms of Service + Privacy Policy: What Teachers Need to Know

Pop Quiz!

Q: Which of these fairly common digital resources is permissible to use with students under the age of 13?

EasyBib is a citation generator used in every school district in which I’ve ever worked. It’s a major time-saver when it comes to creating bibliographies and works cited pages.

Pinterest is a social, digital bulletin board used for saving and sharing images, recipes, websites, and ideas of all kinds.

Canva is a graphic design tool used for creating posters, flyers, digital graphics, and more.

Each of these resources is extremely useful, so it makes sense that you would be interested in having your students create accounts to be utilized with a variety of learning activities. What do you need to know first, however? How do you know if these websites are okay to use with students? If a website seems “legit”, or has some sort of educational value, it’s probably fine, right?

Not necessarily. What follows are my tips for determining whether or not your students are able to safely utilize and/or create accounts on websites.

  1. Check out the Terms of Service: This is my first stop. Terms of Service can usually be found at the bottom of most websites. I check out Terms of Service first because, if age restrictions exist for the resource, they would be stated here. If Terms of Service do not permit my students to utilize the tool, then my search ends here and I don’t even need to review the Privacy Policy.
  2. Review the Privacy Policy: If Terms of Service permit my students to utilize the tool, then I review the Privacy Policy, also usually located at the bottom of the webiste. Keywords I look for include “COPPA” and “FERPA.” Ideally, the website will clearly describe how the the tool is both COPPA and FERPA compliant. COPPA (The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) protects privacy of children under age 13, and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) protects the privacy of student education records. The Privacy Policy should also explicitly state what student information is collected and for what purposes; how it is stored; how access to this data can be revoked by the user; what permissions, if any, are required for children under 13 to utilize the tool; and how users will be notified of any changes to its Privacy Policy.
  3. Check these Websites: Some educational resources have been “certified” as protecting student data privacy by organizations such as Student Privacy Pledge, iKeepSafe, and Common Sense Media. These websites are great places to find additional verification that a resource has been somewhat vetted. I say “somewhat”, because, ultimately it is your responsibility to make sure that any tools you use with students meet data privacy requirements.
  4. When in Doubt, Ask Your District Technology Administrators: The buck must ultimately stop at the top. If you have any doubts or questions about a tool, ask your technology team to take a look at the resource you’re considering using with students. They may even have a guidance document for your district. Here is our district’s Approved Digital Resource List. It’s a living document to which we continually add new resources. Each resource contains a description, indicates whether it’s free or paid, and, most importantly, states whether it can be used with student data (eg. student names, email accounts, etc.).

So what’s the answer to the Pop Quiz question?

A: Based on Terms of Service, NONE of these resources may be utilized by students under 13. I find the EasyBib Terms of Service particularly surprising, as it is such a ubiquitous tool in intermediate grades as well as in middle school. The Terms clearly state, however, that no one under 13 may use the service. Pinterest is another resource that I’ve had several teachers wanting to use with intermediate elementary students as well as younger middle school students. Unfortunately, Terms of Service prevent them from doing so. Canva’s Terms of Service also specify that use is reserved for ages 13+.

While Terms of Service and Privacy Policies look daunting, these two documents usually provide enough information within the first few minutes or so of review to know whether or not a resource might be considered for use with students under 13, and whether their Privacy Policies are written in accordance with COPPA and FERPA.

If you think that the resource likely DOES meet student data privacy requirements, I suggest you still have someone in the technology department review it. Let them know that you’ve already checked Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, but that you’d like a final review and “go-ahead.” They will appreciate your due diligence and commitment to the shared responsibility of keeping our students’ data private and safe.

Additional Resources: