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Privacy jitters derail controversial K-12 big data initiative

Jaikumar Vijayan | April 24, 2014
Unrelenting privacy concerns finally derailed a controversial big data initiative that promised to deliver more individualized instruction to public school students in the U.S.

InBloom said its main role was to provide a way for student data to be collected, aggregated, stored and shared in a standardized way.

Numerous privacy groups, parent groups and lawmakers saw the effort as a major threat to student privacy.

Most of the concerns had to do with the relative lack of information on what student data was being uploaded and how for-profit data mining companies would use the data. Considerable concerns were also raised over the enormous challenges InBloom would have faced securing the highly sensitive data in its control from hackers accidental leaks.

Parents had no say in how their student's data would be used or shared — another major concern, said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, an advocacy group that opposed the initiative from the start.

"We have a lot of concerns about the idea of outsourcing education into private hands," Haimson said. The notion of private companies getting access to large volumes of high sensitive student data, without the consent or knowledge of parents is very disconcerting, she said.

Access to student disciplinary records, disability information and health records was particularly disturbing, because of the potentially devastating long-term consequences if the data was misused, she said.

In a statement, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) noted that while InBloom might have been ahead of its time, similar efforts going to be vital in future.

"The winding down of inBloom is as much of a sign of the lack of maturity of technology leadership in the the K-12 sector as it is about anything else," SETDA executive director Doug Levin said in a statement.

"InBloom drove critical conversations about interoperability and data standards, about student data privacy, about the reliance of the education sector on private companies, and about who should be in the driver's seat with respect to decision making about the education of students," he added.


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