Sunday, January 10, 2016

Chromebooks and Student Privacy

At recent board meetings and district presentations, you have probably noticed that we are continuing to increase the use of technology in our schools where applicable, such as in the latest revisions to the high school math curriculum.    Some parents have raised concerns about possible loss of privacy, or harvesting of student data by large companies:  this article from the Jewish World Review provides a good summary of these concerns.   I have asked Superintendent Scott and Chief Information Officer Don Wolff for their response to the article.   They seem to have a pretty good answer, indicating that Oregon provides protections above and beyond the basic contract with Google:

I think the article is accurate and on point on a lot of it’s arguments. What it doesn’t address is that Oregon has an agreement with Google not to collect, store, and save information around students when using the core components of the Google products. In addition, the state has passed Senate Bill 187 which requires vendors to adhere to certain privacy stipulations that does not allow them to track and use student data other than for the enhancement of educational features. Information can’t be sold or used for advertising or marketing. 

We do know that apps outside of the core applications provided, like Youtube and Maps, do allow them to collect information on how those applications are being used and to enhance the usefulness of them. But also, these applications will fall under SB187 when it takes affect July 2016. 

The information collected from Google outside of the core education applications is anonymized and used for the optimization of the tools. Not targeted at advertising to students. 

Thus, it looks to me like we have some relatively good protection for student privacy when using Chromebooks and related software.   As always, we need to keep vigilant, and keep in mind that when we allow a state agency to supervise our children for a large part of the day, there will always be inherent risks to privacy.   But based on the information above, I'm not too worried about the classroom use of Chromebooks significantly increasing that risk. 

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