Schools Let AI Spy on Kids with Hopes of Preventing Suicide. But at What Cost?

commentary

Feb 15, 2024

Teen boy in school library with laptop, photo by Mariia Vitkovska/Getty Images

Photo by Mariia Vitkovska/Getty Images

This commentary originally appeared on TIME on February 15, 2024.

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among American youth between the ages of 10 and 14. The problem of youth suicide has only gotten worse lately, in part due to a nationwide shortage of mental health professionals, particularly in schools, where if available, an on-staff psychologist, counselor, or social worker can help identify at-risk youth, and take steps toward an appropriate intervention (PDF).

As a remedy, school administrators, faced with daunting funding and staffing shortages, have increasingly looked to technology to help them manage the youth suicide crisis. Specifically, companies such as Bark, Gaggle, GoGuardian, and Securly have developed technology in the form of AI-based student monitoring software that tracks students' computer use to identify students facing mental health challenges. It is generally designed to operate in the background of students' school-issued computing devices and accounts, and flag activity that may indicate that they are at risk for self-harm.

This tracking software is being used nationwide, on millions of students. But many parents and community members remain unaware of its existence. Students may have some sense that their school devices are being monitored, but likely have a limited understanding of how it is used. And even though identifying suicide risk might be a worthwhile objective, AI surveillance may feel like a significant breach of privacy, while also posing other unanticipated harms.…

The remainder of this commentary is available at time.com.


Jessica Paige is a social scientist at RAND whose research is focused on racial inequality in the United States. Benjamin Boudreaux is a policy researcher at RAND who is focused on the ethics of technology. Lynsay Ayer is a clinical psychologist and senior behavioral scientist at RAND who conducts research on youth suicide.

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