The protection of student data is one of the most fiercely fought-for concepts by privacy advocates in the U.S. Many argue that the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act has not been sufficient in fully safeguarding against the corporate use of data collected on students in the classroom. On January 12, President Barack Obama proposed the Student Data Privacy Act — a law that would specifically prohibit companies from using data collected on students in the classroom for any purpose related to behavioral marketing. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google have signed their names to the pledge.
Obama reinforced his call to protect student data during the State of the Union address on January 20, mentioning data privacy’s urgency along with other cyber security measures. The pledge issued last week has garnered nearly 100 signatures from companies — technology- and education-based ones — which promise to safeguard student data from being used for marketing purposes. The pledge states that school service providers promise to:
- Not sell student information
- Not behaviorally target advertising
- Use data for authorized education purposes only
- Not change privacy policies without notice and choice
- Enforce strict limits on data retention
- Support parental access to, and correction of errors in, their children’s information
- Provide comprehensive security standards
- Be transparent about collection and use of data.
Google joined the second wave of 15 companies to sign on to the pledge this week — adding to the 75 that signed last week — amidst concern that it had not already done so. But Google has consistently been under fire in the U.S. for its use of student data for targeted advertising; in early 2014, the company was caught in a legal snafu in California, accused of violating state and federal wiretap laws because of the ways in which it collects student data and uses it for advertising. No doubt the company would have garnered increasingly bad publicity for its prolonged delay in signing of the pledge.
Urging Congress on Tuesday to “protect our children’s information”, Obama reinforced that data security is everyone’s problem. He added: “That should be a bipartisan effort. If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable.”