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Liability, Thy Name Is Google Meet

December 10, 2020

In order to educate students in quarantine, our school district is now using the video conferencing tool, Google Meet, which is part of the Google Classroom portfolio of online education products.

Google Meet has been billed as “a game changer.”

Indeed.

The idea of viewing the interior of my students’ homes while teaching them using Google Meet immediately brings to mind one word:

Liability.

In requiring teachers to use video conferencing for quarantined students, my school district has extended the classroom of all of its teachers into students’ homes. We can see into those homes as we conference. It makes me uncomfortable because I do not want to witness something I might be held legally responsible to report even as I feel I am invading student privacy via my official, school presence viewing that private space.

What if I see drugs or drug paraphenalia laying on a table?

What if I witness what appears to be the planning or execution of some other illegal activity?

What if I view or hear evidence of abuse or neglect?

What is my professional liability for what I witness outside of my physical classroom space but inside of this newly-created, virtual, in-home, classroom extension?

I have no idea, and, to my knowledge, neither does my district.

Meanwhile, my district has put me in this position without any guidance (or, it seems, any thought) regarding what I note above.

To deal with my Google Meet guinea-pigging, I find myself purposely trying not to focus on what my students are inadvertently showing me in the backgrounds of their video conferencing. If need be, I am able to choose a neutral background on my computer; however, I have no such cability to default my students’ computers to a neutral, default background for out Meet.

Students can turn off their cameras, but this presents another issue: With student cameras off, I cannot tell whether the student is attending to the lesson unless the student is speaking.

The above represents only one issue concerning privacy and cameras. Another is that since the district owns the computers, it could install spyware capable of activating laptop cameras. A 2019 Pennsylvania lawsuit concerns a district installing webcam-activating spyware on school-issued laptops, and the district activating that spyware on laptops in students’ homes. Parents were not aware that the district could use school-issued laptops to spy on students in their homes.

Liability issues galore, and my district has set its “game changer” cart before its soundly-legally-advised horse.

Okay, then.

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4 Comments
  1. Laura H.Chapman permalink

    This is a very important post . It is relevant to many teachers who are less aware of this liability than you are. Judging from other blogs, data privacy issues are also being glossed over with free-wheeling uses of this or that software package. Few teachers, or other users, read the fine print buried in legalese.

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  1. To Camera or Not to Camera – Grumpy Old Teacher

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