'You may be unintentionally paying': Govt advisory to parents on free content from ed-tech firms

By Express News Service

NEW DELHI: The Union education ministry on Thursday sounded an alarm on claimed free online content and courses being offered by several ed-tech companies for school students, saying that in many instances, they were luring vulnerable families into paying for the services unintentionally. In a detailed advisory, the ministry cautioned that the offer of free services that are promised by some companies has to be carefully evaluated. 

“It has come to the notice of the Department of School Education and Literacy that some ed-tech companies are luring parents in the garb of offering free services and getting the electronic fund transfer (EFT) mandate signed or activating the Auto-debit feature, especially targeting the vulnerable families,” said the government. It has now urged people to avoid automatic debit option for payment of subscription fee, warning that some ed-tech companies may offer the free-premium business model where a lot of their services might seem to be free at first glance but to gain continuous learning access, students have to opt for a paid subscription. Activation of auto-debit may result in a child accessing the paid features without realizing that they are no longer accessing the free services offered by the ed-tech company, said the government.

It also asked people to read the terms and conditions before acknowledging the acceptance of learning software or devices as their IP address and personal data may be tracked.

Encouraging service seekers to do a detailed background check of the ed-tech company, the ministry also said that buyers should ask for a tax invoice statement for the purchase of educational devices loaded with contents, for app purchase or pen-drive learning.

The advisory also warned people against blindly trusting the advertisements of the ed-tech companies, signing up for any loans and installing mobile apps without verifying the authenticity.

It has said that buyers should avoid credit or debit card registration on apps for subscriptions, while also trying to place an upper limit on expenditure per transaction. Parents have also been advised to avoid adding data like emails, contact numbers, card details and addresses online as the data may be sold or used for scam attacks later. To the companies, which have seen rapid growth in recent times, the Centre has asked them to be careful about the claims made regarding the services offered. “It is very much evident that the Ed-tech companies which may be considered e-commerce entities have to comply with the rules to prevent any untoward liability in the future and need to establish a dedicated mechanism in place to check for compliance with the law,” said the government.