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A humble opinion on how digital surveillance by parents can put kids at risk

Millions of students will be relying more heavily on technology this year to access their education. The companies behind these digital platforms will accumulate massive amounts of data as a result. But what about the tools and apps parents deploy to keep their kids safe? Law professor and internet privacy expert Leah Plunkett, author of "Sharenthood: Why We Should Think before We Talk about Our Kids Online?" shares her humble opinion on the drawbacks of high-tech surveillance.


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Million of students return to school this week, many learning primarily online, offering a trove of new data to companies.

But what about the apps and the Web sites parents use to keep kids safe?

Law professor and Internet privacy expert Leah Plunkett shares her humble opinion on why parents should shy from high-tech surveillance.

Leah Plunkett: The other day, my 9-year-old-son tried to convince me that he is ready to walk to school by himself. His pitch: Put one of those smart watches on me, so you will know where I am. My response? No one should be spying on you, including dad and me.

When our kids think the best way for them to get more freedom is for us, their parents, to use surveillance technology on them, we are failing them. I'm the mom of two young kids. I'm also a technology researcher and a law professor.

With my parent brain, I understand the appeal of tracking our kids. With my professor brain, I understand the risks if we go ahead and do it. We can put a surveillance doorbell system on our front door to see when our kids come and go. We can put a smart watch on them with geofencing that alerts us when they go outside bounds we have set for them.

We want to keep our kids safe, but, actually, we're jeopardizing their physical safety. If the technology we're using on them, from smart watches to tracking apps on their phones and beyond, isn't fully secure, their whereabouts could be tracked by people who might want to harm them.

Remember, kids who are survivors of abuse often know their abusers. We don't need to make it possible for potential predators in our networks or hackers to access the surveillance technology we put on our kids and stalk them.

We could also be jeopardizing their future opportunities. When a technology monitors our kids' location, movements, or other behaviors, we typically have no ironclad guarantee that the information stays put. The tech provider could sell information about where our kids go or how fast they drive to a data broker, which then might sell it to schools and employers.

We know that college admissions are increasingly informed by big data analytics. Without ironclad guarantees that a tech provider won't share our children's information, we should assume that they will, either now or in the future, in ways that we can't predict or control.

When our children veer off course, we want it to stay in the family. Parents, choose not to stalk your kids. You're unlikely to be the only ones watching.

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