Back to school after the Christmas holidays has brought a surprise to the school Montedeva, in Gijón. Three students of 5th grade (11 years old) brought new and problematic toys to class: watches capable of making emergency calls, take photos, record video and also allow parents to locate and even spy on their children's conversations, thanks to a mobile application that follows the GPS and controls the microphone remotely. "In the cloister we did not have knowledge that this technology existed," says the director of the center, Miguel Marcos, who has chosen to prohibit devices to protect the privacy of students and teachers.
El de Gijón may be the first center in Spain that censures the smartwatches children, a novel device that is not regulated by the government or the regional Administration. But the decision of this school has already alerted other teachers. "We are not aware that there have been other cases, but it is enough to know of one so that we consider the debate. We are not going to wait until there is a big problem, "says Emma Rodríguez, spokesperson for the Asturian teachers union Suatea and primary tutor in a public school in the town of Bimenes.
In Germany, where it is not allowed to record conversations without consent, the government banned the sale of these devices by the end of 2017 and asked the families to get rid of them. The price of each watch is around 50 euros. They are attractive for parents because they allow them to know at all times where their children are, especially the smallest ones who in many cases do not have a mobile phone. From the map of the application, adults can define a security area, so that if the clock leaves that area, they receive a notification with their location in real time.
As the devices include a SIM card, minors can also make calls to a small number of contacts and, in many cases, parents can initiate a silent call from their own mobile. This function is controversial because it allows them to listen to what is happening around the child. Therefore, it can violate the privacy of the child and people in their environment, who will not have knowledge of the call. According to Kepa Paul Larrañaga, sociologist and president of the Sociology Group of Children and Adolescents, the merit of this technology is evaluated too many times "according to the perspective and interests of adults", and in an environment that ignores the importance of cultivate honest interactions between children and those who care for them.
"The most worrying thing is that the privacy of minors is violated. But saying this, I also think that the classes would get worse if the teachers have to be thinking that they can be recorded at all times, "says Carlos Fernández, president of the Association of Teachers of Madrid. Since the association report that the expertise of teachers is little valued, who know better than anyone else each course and their students and should have "the last word" on the use of electronic devices in the classroom.
Teachers are not aware of being spied on in class, but they consider the use of these watches dangerous by minors. "A 10-year-old girl was taking pictures in the yard with her new toy, without any intentionality," says Marcos about the incident at his school. "In principle nothing happens, but you have to be careful where you can finish those photos, when we find that there are children of 10 and 11 who are already on social networks," he explains.
The concern is not just because children or parents can misuse watches. Rodriguez also notes that they are "easily hackable ". In October 2017, the Norwegian consumer protection agency already warned that many children's watches transmitted and stored unencrypted data. This could easily allow stealing personal information or spoofing the GPS signal to make it look like the watch is in a fake location. In addition, Larrañaga points out that the commercial interests of companies that may also have access to the clock data are unknown.
At the Montedeva school, which allows the use of the mobile phone as a pedagogical tool in secondary and high school courses, they maintain that the prohibition of smartwatches in primary school it has not been a reactionary measure. "We understand that it does not serve at the moment as an educative tool", explains the director. "Technology is going at a pace that sometimes overwhelms the teachers themselves. But as happens to families like us, they are not aware of all the possibilities that these watches have, "he concludes.
The monitoring of minors by secret calls by the clock is a violation of their privacy, defends Kepa Paul Larrañaga, president of the Sociology Group for Children and Adolescents (GSIA). "It seems that at no time is an agreement between mothers and fathers and their children being discussed," he observes. In the dilemma between the protection and autonomy of minors, he says, "the burden of proof" is on the need for autonomy of children. The sociologist regrets that while that need always seems to require justification, parental protection – or overprotection – is the norm.