Privacy concerns squelch student data/edtech efforts

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InBloom, formerly Shared Learning Infrastructure, is a huge ed-tech project designed to pool student data from multiple states in the cloud. The purpose was to make that data easily accessible to developers and schools to fast-forward education to producing phenomenal graduates. Until last week when it lost its last remaining customer, inBloom had nine state partners. While inBloom says it will continue its mission anyway, it is a gloomy example of just how fast privacy concerns can shut down a big data effort.

"InBloom's trajectory has shined a spotlight on the public's sensitivity around what happens to student data," writes Anya Kamenetz in her post in KQED. "Student information, like electronic health records, remains much more sensitive than other kinds of consumer information, and the public response since InBloom's launch has been equivocal at best. In state after state, parents and other education activists raised concerns that student data would be exploited for financial gain or stolen by hackers. In the words of Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters in New York City, one of inBlooms' staunchest critics, 'For-profit vendors are slavering right now at the prospect of being able to get their hands on this info and market billions of dollars of worth of so-called solutions to our schools.'"

Are student data efforts effectively dead then? No, they aren't. But the future doesn't look good for them--or for students and parents--at the moment.

"It doesn't mean that student data is safe, either from marketers or hackers," writes Kamenetz. "According to a recent study by Fordham University Law School, 95 percent of schools and districts already use a hodgepodge of third-party cloud providers for data storage and internal data mining. Fewer than 7 percent of these arrangements actually restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors, and parents are generally not informed of how their children's data is stored or used."

"Last November, a $5 million class action suit was filed against the makers of the ACTs and SATs for selling personal information about millions of high school students," continues Kamenetz. "And the Universities of Maryland and Indiana have recently suffered well-publicized data breaches exposing student Social Security numbers and other sensitive information."

The fight is on to fully protect student data and the privacy of children. But what parents don't know can hurt their kids. Some student data efforts merely operate under parental radar. On the other hand, locking down all efforts to use student data to modernize and improve education is a fool's errand for parents too.

It's past time for the big data industry to educate the public on the benefits and pitfalls in big data. Big data players should seek to form partnerships with parents and consumers. They should also immediately move to be both transparent on how they use that data and fully respect the right of privacy.

Until that happens, expect privacy concerns to crush one effort after another in every industry.

For more:
- see the Politico post   
- see the KQED post
- see the Fordham University study

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