HGHTOWER: Zapme!'s Schoolyard Snooping

If someone was hanging around the schoolyard gathering information on your children, wouldn't you want to do something about it, like tell the creep to scram?

Well, someone has virtually crept into the schoolyard and is gathering information via computer without parents knowing about it, much less being asked permission.  The "somebody" is the ZapMe! Corporation, an internet provider that's backed by such giants as Microsoft and Dell Computer.  The Wall Street Journal reports that ZapMe! already has contracts with 6,000 schools and, on the surface, the contracts look great:  the company provides computers, internet access, maintenance, and support services-free of charge.

What does the company get?  An agreement that their computers will be in use by the students at least four hours a day.  This is where ZapMe!'s public service turns to be self-serving, for the computer constantly flashes ads at the bottom of the screen as the students use it.  In other words, the company is selling our kids' eyeballs and minds to advertisers.  Also, the schools must agree to hand out sponsors' promotional materials for the kids to take home.

Now here's where the deal turns creepy.  With the help of the schools, ZapMe! and its advertisers collect the names, ages, genders, addresses, and other personal information about the students.  These profiles are compiled without informing parents or gaining their consent, and there's no control over how the information is used and to whom it can be sold.  Not only is this insidious internet intrusion into our schools another step toward commercialization of the classrooms, but it's also an outrageous invasion of our children's privacy.

This is Jim Hightower saying . . . A coalition ranging from Ralph Nader to Phyllis Schlafly, including media watchdogs and internet privacy advocates, is calling on states to zap ZapMe!'s schoolyard snooping.  To learn more, contact the coalition at 202-296-2787.

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