Glendale Unified School District, the third-largest in Los
Angeles County, has paid Geo Listening Company over $40,000 to
follow its students on social media networks. The stated aim is
to prevent law-breaking, bullying and doing harm to themselves
Under the scheme, the online activities of Glendale’s 13,000
middle-school and high-school students are closely monitored.
“All of the individual posts we monitor on social media
networks are already made public by the students themselves.
Therefore, no privacy is violated,” Geo Listening Company
said, adding it does not “monitor email, SMS, MMS, phone
calls, voicemails or unlock any privacy setting of a social
Geo Listening is aiming to become a market leader in aggregating
and analyzing publicly available content for educational
facilities’ security needs.
Since the company only tracks publicly available posts, students
can evade monitoring by posting privately. But anonymous services
such as Tor are coming under pressure in the US, raising the
possibility that private web surfing could become a thing of the
Geo Listening bills its computing capabilities as “providing
actionable daily reports to designated school administrators and
staff, using a robust tier methodology” that does not
interfere with existing school policies or procedures.
It claims it can track “bullying, cyber-bullying, despair,
hate, harm, crime, vandalism, substance abuse, truancy” and
much more, using popular services like Twitter, Facebook,
Instagram, Picasa, Vine, Flickr, Ask.fm, YouTube, Google+ or
anywhere else where people share information voluntarily.
Dick Sheehan, Glendale’s school supervisor, told the Glendale
News-Press that the new service is helping the district to go
“above and beyond” in matters of security.
School board member Christine Walters told the newspaper that
educators simply have to be more “proactive to find ways to
protect our students from ongoing harm,” because they are
well aware of bullying taking place online.
“Similar to other safety measures we employ at our schools, we
want to identify when our students are engaged in harmful
behavior,” Walters said.
Glendale opted to learn more about its students after a
15-year-old boy, an alleged bullying victim, committed suicide by
jumping out of a school window in plain view of dozens of his
classmates, Glendale News-Press reported. The contract with Geo
Listening was signed some time ago.
“Our ability to provide a social network monitoring service
for each of your respective campuses separates our company from
any other in the marketplace,” Geo Listening said, adding
that its “unique service model for public and private schools
also allows administrators to focus on students rather than
Cyber security experts warn, however, that students should be
made aware of the monitoring, or they will fear trusting
“As a parent, I find it very Big Brother-ish,” said Yalda
Uhls, a researcher at the Children’s Digital Media Center at the
University of California in Los Angeles.