Keeping student data safe from the marketing machine
Children try out networked computer laptops at the CeBIT Technology Fair.
But, under its new law, the state is prohibited from collecting information about a kid’s Body Mass Index. It also can’t keep a record about whether she’s pregnant, and it can’t gather kids' email addresses.
And that’s just a small part of what the state’s law covers.
"States have taken a huge step forward in the last two years in really strengthening their capacity to safeguard data," said Aimee Guidera, head of the Data Quality Campaign, a non-profit that is tracking student data laws.
But, as technology advances and students do more work on computers, a lot of states want more.
Idaho, for example, rules out certain biometric data; the kind that are collected by analyzing brain waves and heart rate.
New York calls for a parents bill of rights for data privacy and security.
Kentucky has made it illegal for student data to be used to target ads to kids.
So far, more than 20 states have passed laws. And that’s just the beginning.
"Our sense is that we’re going to see a growth in the number of pieces of legislation introduced next year," said Guidera.
A lot of this legislation is being driven by fear, particularly among parents. They worry about what data is being collected and by whom. They want to know how it's being used and whether it is safe.
The rash of new laws and the push by states to pass more is also creating fear among educational technology companies.
"Some of the requirements provide real practical challenges to their ability to serve their customers," said Mark Schneiderman, Senior Director of Education Policy at the Software & Information Industry Association.
In other words, the privacy push is making it harder for companies who want to get their apps into classrooms across the country, he said. It also makes it harder to for them to cash in on the multi-billion dollar market for educational technology.
"We’ve heard it from developers who are now shying away a little bit from the education sector," said Schneiderman.
In tech-centric California, state legislators have been trying to find a way to keep everybody happy.
"We think we’ve found the sweet spot here," said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. He's proposed a law that’ll let app developers use student data to improve their products, but not to market to students.
"We’re not trying to stifle this technology," he said. "To the contrary, we want more apps to help more kids."
But, said Steinberg, there are too many weak privacy polices right now, and there's too much free rein for companies collecting data about kids.