Online Learning and Data Privacy

The school year has officially begun and, with it, a lot of data privacy questions and difficulties that are sure to make it an interesting year to say the least. Although plenty of educators made the online switch last spring, there are a lot of school districts and counties in general that either do not have the adequate funds or the knowledge of what apps and platforms work best for their curriculum and for their students’ data. This sudden shift for a lot of schools to almost completely online education has put childrens’ privacy and data at risk, according to Axios. 

Why is the student data at risk?

There are multiple problems that arise when considering how to protect student data from falling into the wrong hands. Firstly, most teachers and educators are not savvy to the world of data privacy or protection. “Even the most dedicated parent or educator is going to have a really hard time figuring out what’s actually happening with their students’ data,” Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, told Axios. It is just unrealistic to expect every educator to know exactly what is happening with all of their students’ data. 

Secondly, how is every school going to afford or pay for data privacy and security measures? Look at how many gigantic corporations this year alone have had massive data breaches and privacy issues — and some of these companies spend millions on data privacy software and hardware. Obviously, not every school district receives the same funding, so certain school districts can afford to hire a privacy expert to help with protecting student data and compliance while others cannot. Unfortunately, a lot of schools have to choose the options that are more convenient and, most likely, less secure, putting all the students’ data at risk. Even if school districts have already set up what platforms and technology teachers should be using, is anyone really making sure they are?

What about COPPA?

The Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) is a federal law that is meant to protect minors under the age of 13 from having their personal information collected. The problem is there is no communication between schools and COPPA regulators. Instead, it regulates how children’s data can be accessed by websites and internet providers, putting parents in charge over what information about their children is being taken. Also, schools have the ability to provide consent on behalf of parents for “non-commercial” use of the minors’ data.

Except, in February, the New Mexico State Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Google for alleged stealing and selling of students’ personal data. This information included student geolocation data, internet history, terms searched by students on Google, videos watched on YouTube, personal contact lists, saved passwords, voice recordings, and more.

The problem is, privacy experts have said that the COPPA is not strict enough and, despite Google and YouTube having to pay the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) $170 million in 2019, there still needs to be more done to protect childrens’ data.