At the beginning of the week, Munich’s primary school students were also forcibly digitized again. In homeschooling, they are connected to their classmates via Microsoft Teams. The five- to ten-year-olds will see Ms. Meier and Mr. Müller at the teams blackboard, chat with Emma from 3b and exchange solutions to their homework – all using the conference software of the US group. The children could do a lot more with it.
The Stadtwerke subsidiary LHM-Services GmbH (LHM-S) has created all schools in the city area as a single “tenant” in teams, as Microsoft calls the individual tenants of their software. So the whole city is seen as one big team. In these teams, any member can contact anyone else. All children and all teachers can write to each other. Many parents are unlikely to be aware of this – and it invites abuse.
Messages, photos and files can be exchanged via the service. Teams is a kind of Munich-wide Whatsapp for schoolchildren, with the difference that you don’t have to know the phone number of a participant. The name is enough. In this way, at least 140,000 people, teachers and students from 61 vocational schools, 35 high schools, 16 secondary schools, 32 middle schools, 85 elementary schools and 9 support centers are connected. The LHM-S itself noticed that this total networking is not ideal. In a handout from May, which is classified as “confidential”, she therefore advises: Children should “use harmless, sober profile photos” if possible.
Like a Whatsapp for all Munich students
In July, the internal FAQ was expanded to include the items “Cyberbullying and Sexting”. It now says: “MS Teams can also be used for cyberbullying and sexting.” The LHM-S does its best to prevent this from happening. It is not possible for schools to create anonymous or pseudonymous accounts for whatever reason. This ensures that the perpetrators can be identified in the event of digital attacks. LHM-S managing director Martin Janke says that SZ: “I am not yet aware of any case where something like this happened to teams.” The cases would land on his desk at the latest when prosecutors are called in.
The parents were not notified of such concerns. You have signed a declaration of consent for the use of Teams. And under point 3b of the form it is stated that all members of a “tenant” can see each other. It also states “As part of the temporary provision of MS Teams, all Munich schools that ordered the offer via the LHM-S were created via a tenant.” Only very few parents are likely to have understood what that means. The declaration of consent also does not make it clear that the participants can not only see each other, but also write to each other and send photos.
“I can say: I wasn’t aware of that when I signed this,” says Robert Helling, physicist at LMU Munich and member of the Munich Chaos Computer Club (MuCCC). “‘Tenant’ is not part of my active vocabulary.” Helling says he was surprised to find that he could chat with the son of a former FC Bayern star directly through his daughter’s team account.
The LHM-S organizes the digitization of schools for the city. Managing director Janke says that the solution with Microsoft Teams is the best alternative despite everything. It runs stable and in the slimmed down version is also justifiable under data protection law, at least until an alternative is built. He is aware that teams can theoretically be abused. But this also applies to all other tools. Schools should raise awareness of issues such as bullying or sexting, regardless of the digital channel.
Parents see it that way too. Robert Helling would have liked better education from the school, then he would have talked about it with his children. He said he would have signed the declaration of consent to use Teams anyway. Most important to him is that lessons can take place sensibly. This works much better via video and contact with the teachers than with worksheets via email.