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Whose privacy matters most?

Kacy Zurkus | June 2, 2015
Regulations help to protect the privacy of student data by ensuring its proper use.

Aside from financial risks, general privacy risks are a paramount concern when it comes to student data. Bret Cohen, Associate at Hogan Lovells US LLP, said, "A breach of student information can lead to consequences," but there are few scenarios where a breach would not have consequences.

Because a school's network hosts everything from the inventory of a school store to entire education profiles, many stakeholders are concerned. "Storing information about disciplinary actions for years on end could be problematic," said Cohen. "That information can follow them to college or even future employers."

Rebecca Herold, CEO, The Privacy Professor, and CVO and Partner, SIMBUS Information Security and Privacy Services and Solutions agreed. "Student data is concerning because that information is valuable to a variety of groups who are marketing and selling to teens, and that's not even including those with malicious intent."  

As a high school teacher, I was surprised to learn that, "many online tools that students are asked to use are able to track student activity even outside of the classroom," said Herold. Teachers are encouraged to use educational apps to enhance student learning, but some of those online tools and mobile apps track students through their devices, which isn't widely known.

Surveillance is a concern. Identity theft is a concern, and "there is an increasing trend to track students through the devices students are using," Herold said. Student data collection is different, Herold contended, because a breach of their information can "impact their futures before they have even had a chance to try to protect their information."

Specific to the collection of student data is the question of who has access to that shared information and for what purposes. Even Sen. Markey notes that "Data analysis holds promise for increasing student achievement," and the business of analyzing student data to help schools predict learning outcomes is growing exponentially. Yet Markey remains concerned that data collection does pose privacy threats.

"Student data is big business," says Cohen, and researchers, analysts, and software developers are "using data to generate insight and learn what you can do to improve student outcomes. Analyzing student data can predict what types of things make a successful student so that schools can customize the student experience."

Though the law strictly prohibits selling school data for marketing purposes, there are oodles of outsiders with whom schools want to share data from vendors who sell class rings and yearbooks to books and fundraising products. Leong said, "Third parties are required to meet the same standards from the collection to the use and deletion of information when it's done."  

Leong said, "The idea is that privacy encompasses protection and proper handling and using data for the purpose intended. You don't expect a bank to provide information to a third party that is not a financial institution."


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