Why We Need Safeguards to Protect Kids' Data

Why We Need Safeguards to Protect Kids' Data

Read my open letter to ed-tech leaders urging them to develop national safeguards for the personal data collected on students.

Dear Company,

As the founder and CEO of the leading non-profit working to help kids, parents, and teachers succeed with media and technology at home and at school, I'm writing to you about an issue that is of deep concern to me and to many parents.

There's no denying that educational technology has the potential to transform learning for any child anywhere. That's why Common Sense Media has committed to helping every K-12 teacher in this country discover and succeed with the highest-possible-quality edtech. However, as we embrace the power of apps, games, websites, and digital courseware to engage and inspire learning, we are also deeply concerned about every student's right to privacy.

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. 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.

To start the discussion, 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.

These initial principles are:

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

As a leading player in the industry, we seek your feedback on this complex topic.  We would like to explore these principles with you and look forward to engaging in an open and constructive dialogue.

During the next several months, we will be working with other industry leaders, policymakers, educators, and parents to define a set of best practices for using educational technology that benefits students over all other interests. This will lead to the convening of a school privacy summit in Washington, D.C., in early 2014, in which we sincerely hope you will participate.

It is in everyone's best interest for all stakeholders to work together in this critical effort to protect students' privacy. This is the only way to ensure our students benefit from the transformative promise of edtech while guaranteeing that their privacy is preserved.

Sincerely yours,

James P. Steyer
CEO and Founder
Common Sense Media

About Jim Steyer

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Jim is Common Sense Media's CEO and founder -- read all about him here. Read more

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Comments (4)

Adult written by a promise made

Student confidentiality concerns convinced us we had to limit even teacher access to personal information about student use of our software to promote social-emotional learning and provide mental health support. Encryption (even from ourselves), student privacy screens and a HIPPA certified site, as well as, of course, no ads, etc, were necessary and have become our policy.
Adult written by Leonie Haimson

Thank you for this letter on student privacy. However, it fails to address some of the main problems that we see with the rampant sharing of student data, with vendors without parental consent, including their names, addresses, disabilities and disciplinary records.. As with inBloom or many of these other data sharing projects, school districts commonly claim that these disclosures are being done to improve instruction, without any evidence that they will, and without even notifying parents which technology vendors with whom they are sharing their children’s very sensitive data. I see no mention of the parental right to notification, consent or opt out in your letter. As one of the advocates who has been leading the battle against inBloom, which is only the tip of the iceberg, I hope you will expand your goals. I also hope you invite some leading parent activists to your summit, including those who have so far successfully managed to cause their states and districts to pull out of inBloom or to require parental opt out, because of the very real risks to their children’s privacy and security.
Adult written by Geauxteacher

I would like to see you cover the Common Core Standards initiative efforts to collect and share personal student and teacher data. While inBloom appeared at first to be the conduit test Louisiana was using, we have since discovered that our state superintendent has s kitted out state law RS 17:3911 which requires him to gain BESE approval for any data systems or sharing. We found an MOU with CREDO for a research grant tracking students in our Recovery School District, and now an agreement to share student and teacher data with our Louisiana Workforce Commission funded by Federal Workforce Commission. There needs to be a method for reporting or tracking these kinds of covert activities.