Gaggle monitors the work and communications of almost 5 million students in the US, and schools are paying big money for its services. Hundreds of company documents unveil a sprawling surveillance industrial complex that targets kids who can’t opt out.
This is part of a BuzzFeed News package on schools and social media surveillance. Read more here.
For the 1,300 students of Santa Fe High School, participating in school life means producing a digital trail — homework assignments, essays, emails, pictures, creative writing, songs they’ve written, and chats with friends and classmates.
All of it is monitored by student surveillance service Gaggle, which promises to keep Santa Fe High School kids free from harm.
Santa Fe High, located in Santa Fe, Texas, is one of more than 1,400 schools that have taken Gaggle up on its promise to “stop tragedies with real-time content analysis.” It’s understandable why Santa Fe’s leaders might want such a service. In 2018, a shooter killed eight students and two teachers at the school. Its student body is now part of the 4.8 million US students that the for-profit “safety management” service monitors.
A college student whose middle school used Gaggle told BuzzFeed News that the tool taught them that they would always be watched. “I feel like now I’m very desensitized to the threat of my information being looked at by people,” they said.
Using a combination of in-house artificial intelligence and human content moderators paid about $10 an hour, Gaggle polices schools for suspicious or harmful content and images, which it says can help prevent gun violence and student suicides. It plugs into two of the biggest software suites around, Google’s G Suite and Microsoft 365, and tracks everything, including notifications that may float in from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts linked to a school email address.
Gaggle touts itself as a tantalizingly simple solution to a diverse set of horrors. It claims to have saved hundreds of lives from suicide during the 2018–19 school year. The company, which is based in Bloomington, Illinois, also markets itself as a tool that can detect threats of violence.
But hundreds of pages of newly revealed Gaggle documentation and content moderation policies, as well as invoices and student incident reports from 17 school districts around the country obtained via public records requests, show that Gaggle is subjecting young lives to relentless inspection, and charging the schools that use it upward of $60,000. And it’s not at all clear whether Gaggle is as effective in saving lives as it claims, or that (…)