Sunday, July 27, 2014

Are #EdTech Resources Keeping Student Data Safe? Find Out!

Are you an innovative educator who loves using digital media, but is a little concerned about the safety of student data?

Do you wonder if your classroom tech use is CIPA and FERPA compliant?  

You are not alone.

This is a hot media topic which often gives us cause for concern. Being concerned is good. Being armed with the facts is better.

This came to my attention recently, because innovative educators (in threads like this one) provided me with articles that made them second-guess their use of certain technology resources.

I did some investigating and here is what I discovered.

The resource: Google Apps for Education and MS Office 365

The article:  A Safe.Gov article from January 2014 about data mining.

My discoveries: 
The article is a bit misleading in that it implies that scanning email is uncommon. The reality is that every email provider scans email with algorithms to provide services like anti-spam, spell check and prioritizing of emails....all features that users love.

Google used an engine to scan for all of these things and for the advertising that is key to their business, BUT, for education accounts, the advertising data was never used.

To clarify their policy and position Google did two things:
1) Broke the ad scanning piece out of the general scanning engine so there would be no question about scanning for ads... they just don't do it even though the data was never looked at or stored previously.
2) Removed the option for any type of advertising for education (some higher ed institutions were using advertising to target alumni and Google informed them that it wouldn't be an option anymore for Google Education Domains).

All this is clarified at this page which includes links to everything regarding privacy in one place:

On their website Microsoft indicates Office 365 does not and has never used student data for advertising.   More specific information is available at the O365 Trust Center

The resource: Class Dojo

The article:  A New York Times article from November 2014 about privacy.

My discoveries: 
Among other things, the article insinuates that a ClassDojo profile might become a “permanent record” that follows a student. This was never a part of the intent behind ClassDojo. To ensure this doesn't happen, they now don't keep student profiles longer than one school year. The artidle also focuses on ClassDojo as a punishment tool, however, ClassDojo reps say it was designed as a recognition tool  to give students positive feedback on skills like leadership, persistence, teamwork and curiosity, and then communicate that feedback with parents. ClassDojo vows not to profit off advertising or sell, lease, or share children's personal information.

More specific information is available at

The resource: Edmodo

The article: A  NY Times article from last year about student data security.

My discoveries:
Edmodo has had SSL encryption in place as an option for users since 2011, and in July 2013, SSL encryption was made the default. Edmodo has also worked with their developer/app partners to have them make their apps SSL encrypted as well.

Tony Porterfield is the parent of a child whose school district rolled out Edmodo district-wide. What he describes in the NY Times article is a hypothetical situation - there have never been any data breaches.

Edmodo appreciates parents and users like Porterfield who bring these issues to their attention as it only makes their services stronger. Members of their senior team met with Porterfield to specifically address his concerns.

In addition, Edmodo does not have advertising on the platform, nor does the company rent or sell student information to third parties for marketing or advertising purposes. Edmodo has a Chief Privacy Officer and a User Trust & Safety Team, whose everyday responsibilities are to continually monitor and improve the safety and security of Edmodo’s services.

This InformationWeek article followed the NY Times article and talks about Edmodo addressing the issue.

Educators have valid concerns when it comes to using resources with students. Some ways educators and parents can best keep our students safe include: 
  • discussing these concerns
  • asking questions
  • ensuring teachers have opportunities to be a part of product testing
  • creating online communities for users to connect and communicate
  • requiring companies to provide professional development and support to create expert/super-users who can bring up potential issues
  • keeping congress accountable via coalitions such as Student Privacy Matters
What has your experience been using tools such as this? Have you found you, your administration, students, and their parents feel they can trust the resources you are using with students or have you had concerns? Will this article help address those concerns?

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