Surveillance capitalism and open education: Large scale data from Latin America :sync:

Tel Amiel (University of Brasília/UNESCO Chair in Distance Education), Leonardo Ribeiro da Cruz (Universidade Federal do Pará), Dariana Salas (Fundación Universitaria Tecnológico Comfenalco), María Viola Deambrosis (UDELAR), Yuliana Puerta (Fundación Universitaria Tecnológico Comfenalco), Sebastian Zapatero (Fundación Universitaria Tecnológico Comfenalco), Nathália Larrea Montaño (Internet Bolívia)

There has been a substantial growth in the relationship between public educational institutions and large technology companies involving the use of digital services for education. Corporations such as Google and Microsoft, which are among the most valuable companies in the world, have offered educational institutions in Latin America, largely without immediate financial cost, access to educational technologies and information storage in their data centers. These relationships have intensified, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, given the increase in demand for remote learning and the lack of proper infrastructure to support it.

In the field of open education there is still little concern for many of the technical aspects of openness. While the community tends to focus on legal concerns and open licensing; works to promote professional development for the creation and sharing of OER; and engages in policy-making, as a whole it tends to ignore the the constituent characteristics of technical platforms and infrastructures that make the open educational resource ecosystems possible and that act as mediators of open practices. The choice and selection of learning platforms has very real consequences for how openness takes place.

This occurs because, among other things, a large part of the income of the companies involved in these agreements comes from a business model based on the collection and processing of data and the commercialization of profiles for behavioral marketing, product improvement, and building loyalty. These are based on the possibility of predicting the actions of connected individuals by tracking their behavior, which Shoshana Zuboff has famously ‘surveillance capitalism’.

These goals conflict with the emphasis on privacy and data protection on UNESCO’s OER Recommendation (2019). We argue that open educators should be aware of these concerns and make qualified choices whenever possible.

As such, we will present data form the “Education Under Surveillance” project, which has been tracking surveillance capitalism in Brazilian education since 2018, and in Latin America since 2020. To do so, we use a mix of manual data collection and automated scripts to map data on e-mail servers for educational domains, which has been shown to present reliable data on these relationships.

In Brazil, the project has mapped data on all public higher education institutions, state-level secretariats (responsible, mostly, for high schools) and municipalities with over 500.000 inhabitants. In this universe, including all mapped servers, the data indicate that over 65% of institutions/secretariats servers are associated with either Microsoft or Google. This translates to over 75% of the states servers (N=41 mapped servers), and as high as 86% of state public university servers (N = 43 mapped servers). We will present novel, country-level data from South America, where we collected information on 498 public higher education e-mail domains, including universities, colleges and institutes. Among them, 71% (N = 355 mapped servers) are stored in Google data centers (N = 293 mapped servers) and 12% in Microsoft servers (N = 62 mapped servers).

In this panel we will have presentations by those involved with data collection in the region.

Extended abstract: OE_Global_2021_paper_101.pdf 📄

Webinar Information

This presentation is part of Webinar 11 Building Capacity, Developing Supportive Policy taking place in your local time .

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UNESCO OER Action Areas: Building Capacity, Developing Supportive Policy

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For those of you who are interested on our talk on surveillance capitalism, you will find the data for all higher public education institutions in latin america (as a map and filtered table) available on our site ( available in español, portugues and english. Presentation link will be available shortly!


Presentation for this talk is available at:!

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