February 24, 2015

Protecting Student Privacy Presents Policy Challenges

How can we preserve our own and our children’s privacy now that so much information about us is submitted on line? Even well-informed and tech-savvy students and parents are hard-pressed to keep up with all the ways privacy can be breached.  An app called ClassDojo, for example, is widely used by teachers to track and manage students’ classroom behavior.  But where and for how long that often sensitive information is stored, and to whom it is disseminated were unknown until ClassDojo signed a voluntary pledge started by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) to protect student privacy. 

According to a Washington Post article, 91 companies, including Google and Khan Academy, have now signed the pledge. The SIIA, however, is a trade association that represents the software and digital content industry, and the pledge provides no legal protection. 

On January 12th of this year, as reported in the New York Times, President Obama called for federal legislation that would restrain companies operating websites, apps, and cloud services from collecting information on and marketing to K-12 students. The proposal is modeled on a California law that legally restricts companies from targeting students with advertising, creating profiles using collected data, or selling student information. The Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (California SB 1177) will become effective on Jan 1, 2016. How far privacy should extend is surely an open question that will continue to be debated. 

For more information about student privacy initiatives, click here for the website of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard and here for a 2014 OLR report on “data mining” by educational technology providers.