Keeping students safe is a top priority for administrators, educators and parents, and that is why it is crucial to understand the difference between the myths and facts
Schools have kept digital records of students for decades.
In the 1983 film War Games, a young Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy hack into their schools’ computer system to change their biology grades.
At the time, this was pretty risky behavior. Now, schools and districts have much larger challenges with cybersecurity and big data privacy concerns.
Launched in 2011 and originally called the Shared Learning Collaborative, data analytics company InBloom sought to streamline student records in a transparent way to maximize how students, parents, and teachers interact. In 2013, New York public schools provided InBloom with scores of data ranging from student test scores, personal information, and school meal plans.
The internet search engine giant Google has more than 30 million students, teachers, and administrators using Google Apps for Education, a free platform that provides Gmail accounts and cloud computing, document creation, and calendars.
(Next page: 5 myths about student privacy)
Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and InBloom have recently come under fire for what parents and administrators say is a failure to protect personal student information. Let’s examine the myths and facts.
Myth 1: InBloom and Google Apps for Education spy on students.
Fact: While no specific cases have been raised against InBloom for misusing personal data, there were complaints that information could be compromised by hackers or sold to advertisers.
Google, on the other hand, was reported in Jan. 2014 to admitting that it mines for student eMails for ad-targeting purposes, even if the ad function is turned off. Previously, Google said that GAFE did not mine students using the app.
On April 30, Google told the Wall Street Journal that it will no longer read the eMails of children using its services, and would completely disable advertisements in GAFE.
Myth 2: InBloom and GAFE are abusing student privacy and will not be be punished.
Fact: Google has faced many complaints and has been sued, prompting a change in its terms and services in favor of greater student privacy. While much of Google’s operations remain undisclosed to the public, the more transparent InBloom has ceased operations altogether.
In a letter published on its website, CEO Iwan Streichenberger explains why the firm is closing.
Myth 3: GAFE now protects student personal information.
Fact: True, while it should be emphasized that anything submitted online poses security risks, GAFE has certified that it is no longer reading the eMails of its users, and that advertisements are permanently disabled.
Critiques of InBloom’s data mining policy
Myth 4: There is not legislation in place to protect student privacy.
Fact: Untrue. In 2014, New York, Virginia, Kentucky and 5 other states have passed legislation reducing or preventing student data from being shared with businesses or third parties. Other states are expected to follow suite.
Myth 5: Google holds a monopoly on classroom education resources.
Fact: False. Capitalizing on the negative press surrounding Google, the rival search engine Bing is leading a campaign to attract new customers with their ad-free educational service called Bing in the Classroom. In early 2014, Bing organized a soft launch in 5 districts for a new classroom educational tool.
The only caveat: Location is limited to the United States.
Michael Sharnoff is Associate Online Editor for eSchool News. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_eSM.