Tech giant, Microsoft has banded together with fourteen other firms providing educational services across the nation in a pledge to uphold student privacy. The “K-12 School Service Provider Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy,” created by the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software and Information Industry Association, asserts that participating tech firms will not sell students’ information or utilize said information for commercial purposes, including behaviorally targeted advertising.
The pledge is a response to the rapid introduction of technology into classrooms as an educational tool, which can be more effective for each student’s individual needs than traditional methods. Programs ranging from online courses to virtual tutoring are expanding educational opportunities while individualized reports and testing allow educators to customize plans for each student.
Though efficient and future-oriented, the introduction of technology into education has also raised significant privacy concerns. Physical records such as report cards are becoming increasingly available online, and parents and educators are utilizing methods such as email to communicate about specific student’s needs–information that is often sensitive.
“No one’s going to sell your kids’ data, nobody’s going to track your child around the Internet and no one’s going to compile a profile that is used against your child when they apply for a job 20 years later,” said Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future Privacy Forum.
Other firms that have pledged to protect student privacy include the likes of Code.org, an organization committed to computer coding education, and software provider DreamBox Learning, which focuses on teaching mathematics at the elementary level. However, the fourteen committed firms represent only a small portion of K-12 education providers.
Tech leaders Apple and Google have chosen not to participate in this preemptive coalition, despite the fact that the Future of Privacy Forum has labeled the participating companies an “initial leadership group.” However, it is possible that legislation may one day create a mandatory pledge to this standard.
Groups such as the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy (PCSP) have pushed for legislative reform with regards to student privacy, appealing to Congress to alter dated and largely stagnant laws. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 is one such law that was passed to regulate the disclosure of student records long before they became digital.
“Specifically, we are alarmed about ill-thought-through federal policies that, instead of providing safeguards against non-consensual disclosure and downstream uses of children’s personally identifiable information, actually promote policies in which a child’s highly sensitive personal data is disclosed to third-parties for purposes that go well beyond reasonable educational uses and deny parents the right of notification or consent,” states the PCSP appeal.
Further legislative progress has been made with California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent signing of Senate Bill No. 1177, explicitly aimed at protecting student information. The Bill vows to “prohibit an operator of an Internet Web site, online service, online application, or mobile application from knowingly engaging in targeted advertising to students or their parents or legal guardians, using covered information to amass a profile about a K–12 student, selling a student’s information, or disclosing covered information, as provided.”
Proactive support from major companies coupled with meaningful legislative action will likely encourage other major tech companies to become involved.
“If we’re successful,” Polontesky said, “we’ll see a lot of companies stepping up.”
Improving security measures will allow tech companies to continue to enhance the K-12 educational experience without putting student’s privacy in jeopardy.
“We believe every student deserves a quality education and should have access to all the tools necessary to be prepared for the future,” said Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Worldwide Education for Microsoft, about the company’s decision to pledge.