Who's watching the students? The watchers

Girls show their Facebook walls on their mobile devices.

Kids have so many social media accounts these days that it can be hard for adults to keep track of every tweet, Snapchat and status update. Some school officials think monitoring all that social media could be the key to keeping kids safer, so one California school system has  hired a company to do just that.  The Glendale Unified School District is shelling out $40,000 to monitor students’ public social media posts.

Schools don’t give the company any information about students. The service from Geo Listening tracks keywords and other data for signs that kids might hurt themselves or others, then alerts the school. “Every single post is reviewed by a human being, before it makes a report for a school district,” says Chris Frydrych, the company’s CEO.

The technology to monitor social media is not new, but Frydrych says he wants to use it to fight social problems like cyber bullying and suicide.

Susan Etlinger, a social data industry analyst at Altimeter Group, says there is a need for adults to better understand kids’ social data. “I absolutely think it could become an actual business," Etlinger says. "I think it’s fraught with lot of potential pitfalls; accuracy, context, the quality of the technology, it just goes on."

At the International Association of Privacy Professionals, CEO Trevor Hughes says kids do need some privacy and, more than ever, that conflicts with their schools’ need to keep them safe. “That exact same friction plays out in all sorts of other scenarios,” Hughes explains.  “We are certainly seeing it in the current debate over national security and public privacy with regards to the NSA.” 

Geo Listening says it recently hired a lawyer with expertise in children’s privacy and social networks.

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