Are You Concerned About Data Privacy? A New Initiative Can Help

Posted by Matt Berringer on April 12, 2016

Key Takeaways for District Leaders

  • Common Sense Media’s education division has teamed up with more than 40 school systems to launch the Privacy Evaluation Initiative.
  • The initiative is “wide open to further participation” by other school systems.
  • Even districts that don’t take part themselves can benefit from the program.
  • The Privacy Evaluation Initiative comes as data privacy awareness has grown among K-12 leaders.

If you’re worried about the data privacy and information security practices of the technologies used in your schools, a new initiative from Common Sense Media can help you evaluate these practices.

Common Sense Media’s education division has teamed up with more than 40 school systems to launch the Privacy Evaluation Initiative, which will evaluate the basic data privacy and information security practices in the educational software applications used by the participating districts.

“We will be evaluating the terms of service and privacy policies of applications, not companies,” said Bill Fitzgerald, director of the Privacy Evaluation Initiative. “What we are explicitly not doing is saying, ‘This app is OK to use in every situation.’ We want to make it easier for people to make an informed decision.”

The initiative is “wide open to further participation” by other school systems, Fitzgerald said, and there is no charge for the service. The program is supported with funding from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Even districts that don’t take part themselves can benefit from the program. While the full data set will be available only to participating districts, “the evaluation summaries will be publicly available,” he said. EdTech companies will get the data sets for their particular applications.

What’s more, Common Sense Media is releasing its frameworks for evaluating data privacy and security, so other districts can use these frameworks to conduct similar evaluations of their own EdTech products.

“We want everybody to be able to replicate our work,” Fitzgerald said. “By creating a set of tools that will allow people to do that, we hope to demystify what privacy is and what security is.”

Learn how to maintain student data privacy in a digital age.

The first of these frameworks is a 100-page Information Security Primer, which covers basic security testing procedures. It’s available now on the initiative’s website.

Within a few weeks, Common Sense Media also will release the question set it’s using to evaluate the data privacy policies of educational software applications.

“We’ve had multiple iterations of it, and we’re streamlining and expanding the legal rationale behind all the questions we’re asking before making this public,” Fitzgerald said. “We have transparency questions that cover what should be in a privacy policy. Those are all yes or no questions. Then we have qualitative questions on top of those. We have mapped all of those questions to specific legal or FTC guidelines or data handling best practices.”

The Privacy Evaluation Initiative comes as data privacy awareness has grown among K-12 leaders. Last year, the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software & Information Industry Association introduced the Student Privacy Pledge, in which EdTech companies promise to use student data only for educational purposes. Nearly 250 companies have signed the pledge, including SunGard K-12.

“I’m really excited about what we’re doing,” Fitzgerald said. “We are doing everything we can to approach this in an objective and neutral way. The primary goal is to build a framework that helps people make an informed decision faster, but a secondary goal is to help more people have an informed conversation about data privacy and security.”

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Dennis Pierce-footer

Topics: Superintendents, Privacy, CTO, EdTech News and Info, Dennis Pierce