Looking at Student Privacy in 2017

For more reasons than I can count, the 2016 presidential election has amplified our country’s ongoing debate on web privacy. The topic can grow tiresome, but if we stop to consider that the issue goes far beyond someone’s email server, it becomes a little more interesting.

Take student privacy, for example. We expect faculty and staff to honor FERPA. Do we expect the same of tech companies? Just yesterday, the AP reported that Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is suing Google. He claims the company is violating students’ privacy by using their data to sell targeted ads. Of course, Google is far from the only company to have a rocky relationship with privacy advocates. And, it often seems that when it comes to privacy on the web, schools and their students don’t have many good options. So what can be done? Here are a few places to start:

  • Next week, on January 28, EDUCAUSE and StaySafeOnline.org are observing Data Privacy Day. Over at the EDUCAUSE site, you can find a selection of resources and activities that, in their words, will help to “ensure your campus community is respecting privacy, safeguarding data, and enabling trust.”
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a webpage devoted to student privacy. It’s written with an eye toward the K-12 sector, but the principles are largely the same for all students.
  • If you’re the type who loves podcasts, WNYC’s excellent weekly show Note to Self is releasing a series called “The Privacy Paradox,” later this month. This would be an excellent one for instructors to share with students.
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