Kids’ personal data needs protection from tech firms

by John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog

As schools buy more software, applications and “cloud” computing services that gather and store increasing amounts of data about kids, there is growing concern that the information could be misused.

The educational technology software industry is an estimated $8 billion market.  The concern is that instead of using kids’ data only for educational purposes, their privacy will be invaded and the data will be used to market products to kids and their families.

Based on the privacy invading practices that have become commonplace on the Internet, such concerns are well founded.  Last week, Common Sense Media threw down the gauntlet in a letter to 16 educational technology vendors — including Google Apps for Education, Samsung School, Scholastic and Pearson Schoolnet.

“Through online platforms, mobile applications, and cloud computing, schools and edtech providers collect massive amounts of data that contain sensitive information about students — information that needs to be kept out of the hands of non-educational, commercial interests and other third parties,” wrote Common Sense Media CEO James P. Steyer. “In support of connected classrooms that respect and safeguard student privacy, we are launching the School Privacy Zone campaign and reaching out to key stakeholders in an effort to initiate a national conversation about this critical issue.”

“We propose three basic principles that attempt to balance the tremendous opportunity provided by education technology with the need to foster a trusted learning environment committed to children’s educational development where their personal information is protected,” he said.  These initial principles are:

  • Students’ personal information shall be used solely for educational purposes.
  • Students’ personal information or online activity shall not be used to target advertising to students or families.
  • Schools and education technology providers shall adopt appropriate data security, retention, and destruction policies.”

“We believe in the power of education technology, used wisely, to transform learning,” Steyer told the New Times’ Natasha Singer. “But students should not have to surrender their privacy at the schoolhouse door.”

“We are challenging the industry and educators to get this right upfront now, in contrast to consumer data where industry made all of the rules and shaped them in the best interests of the industry,” Steyer said. “We don’t think it should work that way with student data.”

Indeed, we let the genie out of the bottle on the Internet and  are fighting to get our privacy back.  We can’t allow that to happen with our kids’ personal information.