Google Docs Does Not Violate CIPA (or COPPA*)

The following is an email I’ve found myself writing more and more often. This is the longest version (and the latest one I’ve sent off). I’ve decided to share my take on the situation here on this blog for three reasons. First, I hope I can point people here instead of writing more emails. Second, I hope this might benefit people who might never email me (such as people searching the web for this topic). And third, I hope those of you familiar with such things (either legal experts or educators who are fighting this fight – on either side) will provide feedback in the comments.

The most important thing is to understand this: not having control over documents doesn’t constitute a violation of CIPA. Not having control over an online document doesn’t make Google Docs a violation of CIPA any more than not having control over a pen and paper makes spiral bound notebooks a violation of CIPA.It’s actually more or less irrelevant to the law.

CIPA does require that school districts filter the internet to protect students from content that is “harmful to minors” (and the primary concern is porn). The key is that schools need to show due dilligence in blocking sites they know are “harmful.” There is no expectation that schools will block “anything that could possiblly or potentially be inappropriate.”

CIPA (and the related FCC regulations) do require that there is a process in place for adults to unblock legitimately educational sites… and one of the only reasons that CIPA has not been struck down in the courts is due to the ease of unblocking a site using filtering software. Ideally, teachers will have access to an individual password for bypassing a school web filter. However, many school districts make this process anything but easy – and in many cases it is effectively unavailable to teachers. This is a legal problem (and in terms IT would understand, I believe this is a liability). You’d be well within your rights to request (and expect) Google Docs to be unblocked.

But… remember that COPPA forbids Google from collecting profile information for users under 14 years old. So younger students should not be using any Google tool, including Google Docs, that requires them to log in with a Google Account. This is because Google has no mechanism for collecting “verifiable parent consent” for student profile information. However, school districts excell at collecting “verifiable parent consent” – we call this permission slips. So, if you set up Google Apps: Education Edition, collect parent consent for students to use it, and control the student accounts yourselves, you’re in good shape with respect to COPPA. (For students 14 and over, you’re legally fine having them use Google Docs – and despite the fact that Google’s terms of service say users need to be of legal age to enter into a contract, which i 18 in California, Google does encourage the use of their products with students aged 14-18.)

Regarding some of the other concerns in the thread below… much of it is off topic or irrelevant to the issue of using Google tools (such as Docs) in the classroom. Here is my brief response to a few other concerns:

  • We’re not talking about outsourcing HR, we’re talking about instructional use.
  • Google is explicit about the intellectual property still belonging to the user. (And their privacy policies and practices are very strong.)
  • We’re not talking about sharing confidential student information, we’re talking about instructional use.
  • With respect to archiving documents for public disclosure: Use of Google Docs for teaching and learning is no different than using spiral bound notebooks, photocopied assignments, or ordinary blackboards. In fact, I’d say the online documents are generally better archived than anything a district can ordinarily pull off in the classroom… particularly with the history of revisions. In any case, if districts are not concerned about “archiving” handwritten student essays on paper, I don’t see why Google Docs would be any different. We’re talking about instruction here, not district business. It’s important to remember the difference.

Again, I hope this has been helpful – and I hope you’ll leave me feedback in the comments below.

Recent Workshop Wikis: Sketchasting and More…

I’m in the middle of two weeks of relatively intense workshop activity and realized I haven’t been sharing my workshop wikis here lately. So, here are the agendas (with links to everything I mention and materials if applicable) for each of the recent workshops that I have permission to share:

Sketchcasting – This workshop was based on the latest tool I found to share with teachers using Tablet PCs. In essence, is a web-based sketching program that is actually responsive enough to work well with a Tablet PC pen and which allows users to save and share their sketches online, complete with narration. It’s like being able to save what happens on the whiteboard – erase the board and keep going as many times as you like during your narration.

Picasa in Education – This is the latest version of my workshop for helping teachers get the most out of Picasa. The wiki includes links to documentation, a checklist of hands-on topics to cover, and links to many other resources including instructional strategies with a digital camera aligned with Marzon’s instructional strategies that work.

Movie Maker in Education – This is a similar workshop, but for Movie Maker. The wiki includes links to documentation, inspirational ideas for classroom use, and more. I even suggest ways to extend Movie Maker’s functionality using Audacity, Photostory, Zamzar, and a Flip Video. (Don’t get too excited… these are one line suggestions with a link to the tools.)

Blog If You Love Learning – This is the latest version of my blogging workshop. Some of the examples are old, but they’re not dated. I’m still very passionate about leading this workshop and sharing these ideas with teachers. For the first time I got to include the new Blog and User Creator at

Organization Skills – This is a new one for me, and the wiki is mostly just an outline of ideas and activities. The purpose was to help teachers using Macbooks (who are going 1:1 with their students next year) to better organize their digital lives, at least professionally. Perhaps some of you will have additional ideas or better links to add. :)

Search Learn Share: An Introduction to Google in Education (Day 1) – Over three Saturday mornings I’m introducing teachers to the content shared during the Google Teacher Academies (which are more of a lightning quick train-the-trainers format). I’m excited about having the extra time to work with teachers so they can apply the various tools in their work as educators.

Internet Awareness and Safety – I haven’t actually updated this workshop yet, but I’ll be leading it next week at the Leadership 3.0 conference, and it is in need of an update… so there will be new material up there in the next few days. I’m still proud of the balanced approach this workshop takes and I look forward to sharing it with administrators next week.

More… – I’ve shared links to many more workshop wikis on the Workshop Topics page of this blog.

I’d appreciate contributions or feedback on any of these. And of course, feel free to use them as long as you abide by the Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons license on any original material.

Link: Online Predator Paranoia

MySpace Banning Sex Offenders: Online Predator Paranoia at Climb to the Stars (Stephanie Booth) (Via a tweet from iJohnPederson.) I think John Pederson tweeted this for other reasons (the flaws in Megan’s Law I think), but I found these statistics particularly relevant to the message we are trying to get across to educators and parents in our Internet Awareness and Safety presentations.

David Finkelhor, in panel Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization: Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths, May 2007

Let me summarize the important facts and figures from this excerpt and the next few pages. The numbers are based on a sample of law enforcement cases which Finkelhor et al. performed research upon:

  • most victims of “online predators” are teenagers, not young children
  • only 5% of cases involved violence
  • only 3% involved abduction
  • deception does not seem to be a major factor
  • 5% of offenders concealed the fact they were adults from their victimes
  • 80% of offenders were quite explicit about their sexual intentions
  • these crimes are “criminal seductions”, sexual relationships between teenagers and older adults
  • 73% of cases include multiple sexual encounters
  • in half the cases, victims are described as being in love with the offender or feeling close friendship
  • in a quarter of the cases, victims had actually ran away from home to be with the person they met online
  • only 7% of arrests for statutory rape in 2000 were internet-initiated

These statistics go a long way toward providing a balanced and nuanced view of what the real dangers are online, especially as opposed to older and potentially misleading studies such as the much quoted youth internet safety survey (the source of the 1 in 5 students are solicited for sex online statistic). The reality is that the students most at risk are those who are naive, low in self esteem, and susceptible to “grooming” (when predators build trust by acting in flattering and sympathetic ways). The issues are of course more complicated than that, but these are eye-opening statistics I wanted to capture and share here.

Internet Awareness Screenplay

I just finished a draft of a screenplay for a video version of the Internet Awareness and Safety presentation I’ve been doing for the Laguna Beach Unified School District and the Orange County Department of Education. I wrote it based on the PowerPoint Slides (available on the wiki), the video of my presentation in Atlanta (available from here), and an article I wrote for Gifted Education Communicator last year. I’m sharing the script here in case anyone is interested in the perspective we’ve been sharing – and because I’m looking for feedback at this stage.

Internet Awareness Screenplay (83 KB Word Doc)

I just sent this draft to Victor Guthrie, IT director at Laguna Beach USD, who will be appearing with me in the video. The following is an excerpt from that email:

I pretty much just wrote the copy straight through – and then I divided the whole thing up into lines for me and for you.. with no thought given to who was saying what except when we introduce ourselves. So, it is pretty much one voice throughout. We can of course edit it before filming – and edit it on the fly – if there is anything you are uncomfortable saying or want to add, or if you’d like to swap lines anywhere or have me say more of it. The producer will be editing it, and I expect the OCDE will request some edits too. Also, the biggest weakness of the script right now is that it doesn’t include a lot of specific details or statistics. The benefit is that it’s much shorter than it might’ve been and yet still covers all the main points. We can of course add more if we like. Let me know what you think.

I am of course also nervous about being looked to as an expert when it comes to the safety of children, but I think the education-focused perspective we are advocating is an important one – in contrast to the efforts of some organizations which can come off as more fear-based. I’d be interested in your feedback.

Internet Awareness at Capo USD

After the exciting morning at Salem, I had a bit of time in the afternoon to bone up on my Internet Awareness and Safety presentation before heading out to Capistrano Unified School District to lead a workshop there for the Orange County Department of Education. When we ran these workshops in Laguna Beach, there was generally around 20 to 40 parents participating, allowing for good discussion. Capo had over 120 RSVPs for Wednesday night’s event, but in the end we probably had around 60 people I would guess. It turned out to be a good group with lots of good questions. In answering questions, I was joined by Victor Guthrie, IT director for the LBUSD (who co-developed the workshop with me), Karla Kerr from the Orange County Sheriff’s department, and Robert Craven of the OCDE. Bonnie Cameron and Dr. Susan Holliday hosted the event in the CUSD boardroom.

I made some changes to the Internet Awareness wiki that might benefit others who want to make this same presentation. I added a workshop outline with hotlinks to everything mentioned in the presentation, a list of books I used to develop the presentation, and a few new links in the list that was already there. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive source of information, but a way to point workshop participants in right direction(s). Feel free to add additional resources yourselves if you use the wiki. :)

Incidentally, it seems students MySpace profiles are increasingly set to private… and increasingly tame (or even appropriate). While I’m sure many are lying about their age, location, and other details that make it difficult to find their inappropriate posts… that’s actually a good thing from a safety perspective. Of course, maybe they’re all just over at facebook (or somewhere else) now. ;) (Internet Safety from the NCTA) (Via email from Paul Rodriguez at the NCTA.) I recieved an email alerting me to this announcement from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. In short, they’ve made a pledge to “provide parental controls, education about online safety and digital media literacy, and to provide assistance to law enforcement to stop online threats and predation.” At a glance, their approach of “Control, Educaiton, Choice” seems well balanced and not overly fear-based. They also have some high-quality video material available. In fact, it’s not unlike a video production project we’ve been discussing with the LBUSD and OCDE here in Orange County. I love when what you want to create is already out there and you can move on to other ideas. :)

UPDATE: The videos are also up on YouTube: