Legislators set to introduce student privacy bill

On Monday, Reps. Luke Messer and Jared Polis will reportedly introduce the legislation in the House.
On Monday, Reps. Luke Messer and Jared Polis will reportedly introduce the legislation in the House.

In January, President Obama urged lawmakers to put forth legislation that would further protect student data – a call two congressmen have now answered through bipartisan effort.

On Monday, Reps. Luke Messer, R-Ind., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., were set to introduce the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act in the House which is meant to restrict how educational data belonging to K-12 students can used by businesses.

Last month, the White House revealed that the coming legislation would ensure that educational data “is not mined for commercial or marketing purposes.” Quoted in The New York Times on Sunday, Polis said that the bill was a “first step in providing a framework that can address the concerns of parents and educations, and, at the same time, allow the promise of education technology to transform our schools.”

The bill makes its way to the House as privacy advocates (among them, educators and parents) continue to voice their grievances with student data collection practices.  

In the spring of 2014, for instance, Google announced that it had permanently removed ad scanning in Gmail Apps for Education, so that students, teachers and administrators using the service would no longer have to worry about student data being collected or used for advertising purposes. Google made the change just weeks after inBloom, a student data processing organization funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was forced to shut down. Conceived as a way to aggregate information on students so that educators could create personalized instruction, the database drew fire almost as soon as it opened its doors in 2013 from those worried that data could be mined or even tapped by colleges during the admission process.

The new data privacy bill co-sponsored by Polis and Messer would specifically prohibit companies that operate school services, such as student email programs, online homework portals, or digital grade books for instructors, from “knowingly using or disclosing students' personal information to tailor advertisements to them,” – and also ban such firms from collecting or using student data to create marketing profiles, The Times reported.

Leonie Haimson, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, however, shared that the bill lacks vital protections, such as requiring parental notice or consent when “schools share personal data with thirds parties,” Haimson said in a statement.

She later added that companies would “still be allowed to target ads to students as long as the ads were selected based on information gathered via student's single online session or visit – with the information not retained over time.”

On Sunday, the privacy coalition published a long list of “critical weaknesses” impacting the bill.

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