By Cooper Hedger and Pat Elder
January 24, 2018
Andrea Falcone and Marina Valenzuela were early for Biology class at Perry High School in Chandler, Arizona on a crisp desert morning last fall. To pass the time, the girls watched the 6-foot SkoolLive screen in the hallway that resembles a giant I-phone.
Normally, the screen displays a slow-moving video of advertisements and school calendar items, like the dates and locations for the next cheerleader practice, or when class rings will be available. In the meantime, video feeds include advertisements from a variety of sponsors. Students are prompted to enter personally identifiable information in response to various promotions by corporate and military sponsors.
Today, Andrea and Marina couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
The screens regularly display photos and names of students in high schools across the country who have uploaded their information onto SkoolLive kiosks: “Hannah Tudor, Murrieta Valley High School,” or “Trent Bean, Great Oak High School, Temecula, CA.”
The interactive screens apparently allowed students to display obscene images. (See Below). Students displayed names like “D***less The Clown” and “Monkey F*****”), and a meme showing a bud of marijuana with the title, “Light up!” You may need to google “Respect Thots” and “Phat Milf” to understand the obscenities shown on the screen below.
Andrea and Marina knew what it meant, and they were astonished.
This isn’t simply child’s play and we cannot write it off as an example of youthful indiscretion. This activism is motivated by a rejection of the commercialization of high schools and a concern for student privacy rights, as we’ll see below.
SkoolLive’s kiosks are an affront to American public education. Presumably, these obscene items were broadcast by Skoollive to the 71 newly-installed kiosks in 38 schools throughout Arizona, as well as to SkoolLive screens in high schools across the country. The company reports it has agreements with more than 2,000 schools in 27 states and intends to triple that number.
SkoolLive’s system is simple enough for high school “hackers” to penetrate. It is relatively easy for kids to work around the security and filtering systems. Students apparently can create unfiltered profiles of photos and descriptions that appear on kiosks around the country.
Privacy activists are alarmed by the presence of these interactive kiosks. After all, federal law says schools cannot release private information about children without first seeking parental consent. SkoolLive is making it much easier for the military and corporate America to circumvent federal privacy laws designed to protect children at school. Advertisers, like the one shown above, (Text STEP to 83838) prompt students to text messages to marketers who typically collect additional information from the kids.
Students have been able to upload QR Codes on to the SkoolLive stream of video, which is then shown on various kiosks across the country.The one below, uploaded by Hedger, represents a kind of revolutionary teenage digital coup.
Students in the hallway are invited to scan the QR code using their I-phones. When they do, they arrive at a petition on Change.org calling for the kiosks to be removed. The petition has gathered 121 signatures since it was uploaded 6 months ago. Here’s what it says:
Remove SkoolLive from Chandler Unified School District
“Student is counting on you!
Student Protection needs your help with
“Remove SkoolLive from Chandler Unified School District”
Join Student and 120 supporters today.”
SkoolLive – An interactive digital invasion of our high schools by corporations and the military.
Brilliant activism or childish prank?
During the summer of 2017, SkoolLive machines were installed in several high schools in the Chandler Unified School District, including Perry, Basha, Hamilton, Casteel, and Chandler High School. Chandler is about ten miles southeast of Phoenix. Some were alarmed by the invasion of privacy rights. They thought that high schools should be a kind of refuge from commercialism.
David Monahan of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood assailed SkoolLive, “Schools should be about learning, not marketing. SkoolLive brings advertising into schools, where kids are a captive audience and can’t turn it off.” Monahan continued, “They have a bogus sales pitch that schools need a better way to communicate with students.” He said, “SkoolLive is also violating students’ privacy.”
Monahan continued, “They’re not being up front about what information they collect about students and how they use and share it. And all for pennies back to the school. It’s a bad deal for schools and their students.”
Jim Metrock heads up Obligation.org, a public interest group that also opposes commercialism in schools. “A captive audience of school children is very attractive to advertisers,” he said. “This is taxpayer-funded school time, and it doesn’t make sense that companies can buy time to have with students.”
Not surprisingly, SkoolLive exploits their access to the captive children and tells prospective advertisers, “Our on-campus access gives your brand an opportunity to connect with a captive student audience on a daily basis…through static messaging, video placement or interactive campaigns.”
Captive student audience? They’re our children!
This is despicable public policy.
The scheme has not been a big money-maker for the Chandler School District. A district representative stated that the district has made “about $120” to date, meaning each kiosk has made on average, four dollars in the last 6 months. SkoolLive officials apparently told Chris Marczak, assistant superintendent of Oak Ridge High School in Tennessee, the company had estimated each kiosk could generate between $2,000 and $5,000 monthly for each of its schools.
SkoolLive markets the interactive capability of the kiosks to its clients as a way for students to access more information about a particular sales pitch. Need to know more about purchasing high school rings or yearbooks? Click here. Want to leave your contact info for an advertiser to get in touch? It’s simple! Want to know more about jobs in the Army or how to find out more about taking the military’s enlistment test? Fill in your contact information and we’ll get right back to you! The military also uses popular contests on SkoolLive to generate leads.
Defend student privacy! Shut down SkoolLive across the country.
Cooper Hedger (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a student at Perry High School in Gilbert, Arizona. Pat Elder is the Director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, www.studentprivacy.org