Privacy Project: Student Data = Asset?

Project Recap: Over the summer, Regina Public Schools collected all of our schools’ mobile devices, namely ipads, wiped them clean of their applications, and took control over what can and cannot be installed. Teachers returned to their respective schools to find their ipads with a relatively small selection of board approved applications on their classroom ipads, and locked out of their school apple ids. Whyyyy?  Our initial staff meeting shed some light: privacystudent dataLAFOIP. In the blink of an eye, many applications teachers took for granted were deemed to be non-compliant with existing privacy legislation.

So Far: I have been having some conversations with a couple authorities in this field of student privacy. An ongoing conversation with Bill Fitzgerald forms the basis for this post today. Although he will certainly figure in more posts, I want to send him a quick thank you for being so willing to talk with me.

STUDENT PRIVACY

At the core of the issue, as we see it, is student privacy. Messaging from our respective school administrations and some division staff (like our LRT meetings) communicated stern warnings of confidential student information being at risk, as well as our own.

But what exactly are we even guarding against, I wondered? I have experienced the cold shock of being defrauded before. Luckily, I noticed a fishy pending credit transaction from a continent I had never visited before. To this day, I haven’t the foggiest how the information was gained, and the fraud department with the credit card agency did not know either.

But is this kind of security really in question when we use educational apps, like Google’s educational suite? Are our kids information really being tracked, to that degree? Or are our concerns being overblown?

SEE FOR YOURSELF

The focus of my post today is a brief, but important answer to that question.Consider:

In 2014, an educational company, ConnectEDU Inc., filed for bankruptcy protection. When it filed for bankruptcy, the company was broken up and sold in pieces. For quite some time, what happened to the identifiable data (including test scores, learning diagnoses, and contacts) was an open question. CNN reported that over 20 million students’ records were actually sold to other companies without even notifying the users, violating its own privacy policy.

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Corinthian College, a for-profit college that went bankrupt amidst accusations of fraud, sold student data to a collection agency, The ECMC group, also accused of predatory practices in their student loan recovery efforts.

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In short, student privacy is absolutely a real concern. As teachers, we need to be cognizant of how data automatically collected through our use of educational apps can hypothetically be used down the road. The concern is real enough for parental advocacy groups to begin spring into being, like the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. They released a guide in 2017 for parents on how to protect their child’s sensitive data in schools.

Profit driven corporate interests infiltrating schools is not a new question. But is it just me in thinking that this feels a bit more insidious? The very idea of student information being treated as an asset to be collected and bartered literally makes my skin crawl.

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Thanks for reading!

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