Thursday, February 7, 2013

Growing coalition of education, parent & privacy groups protest plan to share confidential student data with Gates-funded corporation

Education, parent and privacy groups, including the Massachusetts ACLU, the MA state PTA, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and Citizens for Public Schools, sent a letter today to the MA State Board of Education,  protesting the state's plan to share confidential student and teacher information with the Gates Foundation. The information to be shared will likely include student names, test scores, grades, disciplinary and attendance records, special education and free lunch status.  These groups are asking to see the contract with the Gates Foundation, and demanding the right of parents to consent before their children's highly sensitive educational records are shared with the Gates Foundation or any other corporation that in turn plans to share it with private vendors. See the press release below and the letter here.  

Why is should this concern us here?  Because as I have written about previously, the New York State Education Department is participating eagerly in this project as well, and intends to disclose the confidential information of NYC public school children for the same purpose, without  telling parents or giving them the right to consent.

This  "datastore", including the personally identifiable records of  public school students in nine states, will be held by a new spin-off corporation called inBloom Inc.,  headed by Iwan Streichenberger, who worked at a company called  Promethean that sells whiteboards. Its chief product officer is Sharren Bates, formerly of Gates and before that, the NYC DOE official who headed up the $80 million boondoggle known as ARIS.

Gushing stores about the new company, which participated in yesterday's "Digital Learning Day," are all over the web, including this TechCrunch article, which discusses how the Gates Foundation has invested $100 million in inBloom,  which in turn  will "unleash" all this valuable data into the open marketplace of software developers and for-profit education technology companies:

Considering that public spending on education has hovered around 6 percent of the country’s total GDP — in other words, considering the fact that billions are spent every year on education — the declining academic performance (outcomes and graduation rates, etc.) of American students is disappointing to say the least. Thus, the size of the problem is readily apparent — as is the opportunity — for students, businesses and the economy......

The CEO says that he wants inBloom to offer a comprehensive view into each student’s history, their progress and help startups, developers, companies and schools create the tools that will give them greater insight into how students can improve their learning outcomes and personalize their learning paths....

Today, 21 education technology companies have already announced plans to develop apps that will work with inBloom’s open API, including Agilix, BloomBoard, CaseNex, Clever, Compass Learning, ConnectEDU, CPSI, Ellevation Education, eScholar, Global Scholar, GoalBook, Gooru, KickBoard, Learning.com, LearnSprout, LoudCloud, PBS, Promethean , Scholastic, Schoology and Wireless Generation.

All this confidential information will be stored and disseminated from a data cloud run by Amazon.com; meanwhile, a survey of IT corporate leaders was just released showing that 88% believe that data hosted in clouds can be lost, corrupted or accessed by unauthorized individuals, and 86% don’t trust clouds for sensitive data.

According to inBloom Inc.'s privacy and security policy, the company "cannot guarantee the security of the information stored...or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted" to third party vendors.  I wonder if NY state and the other states involved realize that they may be vulnerable for multi-million dollar class action lawsuits if and when this highly sensitive data leaks out, especially since Gates and inBloom appear to have disclaimed all responsibility for its safety.

Here is a updated fact sheet you can share with parents and citizens concerned about the unprecedented risks this project poses to the privacy rights of public school students and their families.  Even if your state is not on the list currently, do not relax; the Gates Foundation is busily trying to recruit even more states that will send their confidential student information to  inBloom Inc., with an operating system devised by Wireless Generation of NewsCorp, and stored on a data cloud run by Amazon.com.  Below is the press release from today.



To view an online version of this message, please click here.
February 7, 2013

Contact:
Josh Golin, CCFC (617-896-9369; josh@commercialfreechildhood.org)
Dr. Erik J. Champy, Mass PTA (617-861-7910; info@masspta.org)
Ann O'Halloran, Citizens for Public Schools (617-448-3647; ohalloran.ann@verizon.net)

For Immediate Release

Coalition Urges Massachusetts Education Officials to Reconsider Controversial Gates Foundation Partnership;
New Shared Learning Collaborative Will Hand Over Confidential Student Data to For-Profit Corporations.

BOSTON -- February 7 -- Advocates for privacy, children, and education are demanding that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reconsider a controversial plan to share confidential student data with the Gates Foundation’s Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC). The Gates Foundation is building a national “data store” of personally identifiable information including student names, test scores, grades, disciplinary and attendance records, and most likely, special education needs, economic status, and racial identity as well. Today, the ACLU of Massachusetts, Citizens for Public Schools (CPS), the Massachusetts PTA, and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) sent a letter to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education urging the Board to make public its contract with the SLC, require parental consent before any data is shared with the Gates Foundation, and pledge that data will never be used for commercial purposes.

"This program forces public school students to trade their personal privacy for access to education — even without their knowledge or their parents' consent. Students in the Commonwealth should be able to trust that state officials will not quietly hand over intimate information about them en masse to private corporations or other third parties," said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Added Dr. Erik J. Champy, president of the Massachusetts PTA, "We have deep concerns about a commercial entity having access to private information about students and teachers and potentially using it for profit, and encouraging others to do the same. This data should never be used for commercial purposes and this matter should be investigated very carefully."

The Gates Foundation intends to turn over its trove of student data information to inBloom Inc., a newly formed corporation which plans to make that information available to commercial vendors to help them develop and market their “learning products.”

“Parents trust schools to safeguard their children’s confidential and sensitive data,” said CCFC’s associate director Josh Golin. “Sharing that data with marketers and commercial enterprises is a clear violation of that trust.”

Advocates’ concerns about the partnership include inBloom’s statement that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted” to third party vendors. These concerns are heightened by the fact that the data store’s operating system is being built by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of the News Corporation, which has been investigated for violating the privacy of individuals both here in the United States and in Great Britain.

"CPS members are concerned about the privacy of our student information and the use of that information by private outfits for profit-making ventures,” said CPS president Ann O'Halloran. “We seek clear information and assurances that private student information will be protected, and that parents will have the right to consent before their information is shared with such databases.”

Massachusetts is one of nine states, including New York, North Carolina, Colorado, and Illinois that have agreed to turn confidential public school student records over to the Gates Foundation as part of Phase I of the Shared Learning Collaborative. Phase II states that have agreed to pilot the system starting in 2013 include Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Parents in New York expressed outrage when they learned that the New York State Education Department planned to give their children’s private information to the Gates Foundation without their consent.

“This entire project represents an unprecedented violation of the privacy rights of children and their families,” said Leonie Haimson, the Executive Director of a New York-based organization, Class Size Matters. “New York parents who are aware of this plan are horrified. I think it’s absolutely crucial that the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education widely publicize their plan, disclose the contract with the Gates Foundation, and give parents the right to consent before this highly sensitive information is shared with any organization or corporation that intends to provide it to commercial vendors.”

The organizations’ letter to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education can be found at http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/sites/default/files/mass_bese_letter.pdf.


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