Understand Privacy Policies

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SummaryUnderstand the important pieces of privacy policies for apps and websites at Riverdale
AuthorMaintained by Matthijs van Mierlo
HelpGet help with this article
StatusUp-to-date for the 2023-2024 school year.

πŸ§‘πŸ½β€πŸ’» Introduction

In today's digital age, privacy policies are essential documents that explain how apps and websites collect, use, and protect personal information. At Riverdale, it's crucial for faculty, staff, and students to understand these policies to ensure the safety and privacy of their personal data. This article will highlight key aspects to look for in privacy policies, including COPPA and FERPA compliance, and provide guidelines for evaluating various digital tools, including generative AI.

As educators and students navigate the plethora of digital tools available for learning, understanding privacy policies becomes increasingly important. These policies are designed to inform users about how their data is handled and protected. By being informed, Riverdale faculty, staff, and students can make safer choices when selecting apps and websites for educational purposes.

πŸ”‘ Key Privacy Policy Elements

When evaluating privacy policies, pay attention to the following elements:

1️⃣ COPPA Compliance

COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act): This federal law is designed to protect the privacy of children under 13. Key points include:

  • Data Collection Limitations: Apps and websites must limit the data they collect from children.
  • Parental Consent: Obtaining verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children.
  • Access and Deletion Rights: Parents have the right to review and delete their child's personal information.

2️⃣ FERPA Compliance

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act): This law protects the privacy of student education records. Important aspects include:

  • Access to Records: Parents and eligible students have the right to access and review education records maintained by the school.
  • Consent for Disclosure: Schools must have written permission from parents or eligible students to release any information from a student's education record.
  • Record Keeping: Schools must maintain a record of requests for access to and disclosures of student education records.

3️⃣ Other Important Elements

  • Data Encryption: Ensures that any data transmitted or stored is encrypted to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Third-Party Sharing: Clarifies if and how data is shared with third parties, including partners and advertisers.
  • User Control: Details the options available to users for managing their data, such as opting out of data collection or deleting their accounts.
  • Data Retention: Specifies how long the app or website retains user data and the reasons for this retention.
  • Privacy Policy Updates: Information on how users will be notified of changes to the privacy policy.

πŸ”Ž Look For Key Phrases

COPPA FERPA Data Sharing & Advertising
"Verifiable parental consent" (look for how they'll collect consent) "School official with a legitimate educational interest" (if the company claims this status) "We do not sell or share your personal information..."
"Children under 13" or "Age 13" "Educational records" (to see what kind of student data the app collects) "Advertising" or "Marketing purposes" (to see if they explicitly rule out using data for this)
"Data deletion" or "Parents can request deletion" of their child's information "Security measures" or "Data security" "Information shared with third parties" (check if it specifies that these third parties have limited purposes for the data)

πŸ“ Evaluating Digital Tools

When considering digital tools for educational use, including generative AI, look for the following:

πŸ§‘β€πŸ« For Faculty and Staff

  • Educational Purpose: Ensure the tool is designed to support educational outcomes and is not primarily for entertainment or commercial purposes.
  • Student Data Protection: Verify that the tool adheres to COPPA and FERPA requirements.
  • Transparency: The tool should have clear, easily understandable privacy policies and terms of service.
  • Reputable Vendor: Choose tools from reputable companies with a track record of protecting user data.

✏️ For Students

  • Parental Involvement: For younger students, involve parents in the decision-making process for using new apps or websites.
  • Awareness: Educate students about the importance of privacy and encourage them to read privacy policies.
  • Safe Use: Remind students not to share personal information online without parental or teacher approval.

General Notes

πŸ›‘ Red Flag Phrases

  • Vague or absent privacy policy: A big warning sign.
  • "We collect the following information...": If the list is overly broad or includes details that don't seem necessary for the app's function, be wary.
  • "We may share your information with..." Without specifying limits on how the information can be used by those parties.
  • "Targeted advertising" or "Personalized content": This raises concerns about selling data for marketing.

Additional Tips for Teachers:

  • Don't rely solely on language: Even if the phrases look good, be sure the company backs them up with clear details in the policy.
  • "Trust but verify": Look for reputable reviews and independent evaluations (like on Common Sense Media) to support what you find in a product's policies.
  • If you are unsure about a tool, submit a support ticket with the Tech Department. We would be happy to help you review any apps and policies!


Understanding privacy policies is crucial for safeguarding personal data in a school setting. By paying attention to COPPA and FERPA compliance and being vigilant about the details in privacy policies, faculty, staff, and students can ensure they are using digital tools that prioritize their privacy and security. Making informed decisions about app and website use helps create a safer digital environment for everyone at Riverdale.