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Education Privacy The Almighty Buck

Parents' Privacy Concerns Kill 'Personalized Learning' Initiative 93

theodp writes: "You may recall that inBloom is a data initiative that sought to personalize learning. GeekWire's Tricia Duryee now reports that inBloom, which was backed by $100 million from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others, is closing up shop after parents worried that its database technology was violating their children's privacy. According to NY Times coverage (reg.), the inBloom database tracked 400 different data fields about students — including family relationships ('foster parent' or 'father's significant other') and reasons for enrollment changes ('withdrawn due to illness' or 'leaving school as a victim of a serious violent incident') — that parents objected to, prompting some schools to recoil from the venture. In a statement, inBloom CEO Iwan Streichenberger said that personalized learning was still an emerging concept, and complained that the venture had been 'the subject of mischaracterizations and a lightning rod for misdirected criticism.' He added, 'It is a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse, even though inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole.' [Although it was still apparently vulnerable to Heartbleed.] Gates still has a couple of irons left in the data-driven personalized learning fire via his ties to, which seeks 7 years of participating K-12 students' data, and Khan Academy, which recently attracted scrutiny over its data-privacy policies."
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Parents' Privacy Concerns Kill 'Personalized Learning' Initiative

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  • So? Fix it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @06:43PM (#46818925) Homepage

    'It is a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse,'

    OK, so quit whining and fix it. Go talk to Bill and Melinda and ask them to fund some lobbying to get privacy laws with sharp teeth put in place. Simple laws that say something like, "Any company says they won't abuse your data gets shut down and all their assets siezed if they sell, transfer, share with a parter, or in any other way distribute your data, or if they sell the use of your data as a service, or use your data for any purpose or in any way other than what is explicitly stated on the front page of their web site, above the fold, in bold 14 point type."

    All we want is to be able to trust you. Since it would be silly to trust an American company that didn't have its financial ass on the line, what we need is for your financial future to be directly coupled to you doing what you claim you were going to do anyway. Put your money where your mouth is; if you're not trying to pull something, it won't cost you a thing.

  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @06:53PM (#46818971) Journal

    First of all, the summary is misleading. It wasn't parents that "shut this down" (and that would simply happen by parents not utilizing the service in the first place). It was the governments that own and operate the schools. The passed laws that will not allow the schools to share the data in the first place. Big difference. Especially since there was no breach. Nothing "bad" happened to warrant this ruling.

    Whether this has always the case, or is simply more apparent in this day and age, I'm not sure. But at this point in time, public schools are operated by cowards. I'm talking about the school boards and superintendents who operate the school districts at the highest levels (where these kinds of decisions are made). I'm talking about everything from their policies regarding "threats" (like how you hear in the news about 10 year olds being suspended from school [] because they made their fingers into the shape of a gun and made a sound), to locking down schools with video cameras at the entrances so parents have to show their ID and be buzzed in just to have lunch with their child. An event happens at one school in the entire nation, and suddenly that is somehow a realistic threat to that every other school in the nation too. It's because those operating the schools at the highest levels are cowards. They say they have "zero tolerance" for many things now (like the whole "gun" threat nonsense), which really means "We absolve ourselves from having to think or make decisions in any way, so that we, the school board, have zero liability at all in the event, no matter how remote, that something bad happens at our schools." Cowards .

    Now this whole inBloom thing, whether a good idea or not, is dead because of those cowards. Parents no longer have this option, in the 21st century, to simply consolidate their children's educational data to a single 3rd party service. Why? Because school officials, in their fear and ignorance, assume that somehow it's all going to be breached - and here's the key part - and that they will be responsible and bear some degree of liability.

  • by jopsen ( 885607 ) <> on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @07:12PM (#46819057) Homepage

    The organization response does appear to be tone-deaf. I wouldn't care if they had perfect security. I care about what they're going to do with the information.

    Exactly... And being US based, you can't trust what they say anyway, because they can be legally order to lie to you.

    It really, doesn't matter what they say... At the end of the day, the US doesn't have a legal framework to support safe use of private data for good, without risks that it may end up at NSA (or big insurance companies).

    Closing this was the only way, given the current political landscape in the US big data is never safe.

  • by Camael ( 1048726 ) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @11:20PM (#46820167)


    It reports that the inBloom database could track 400 different data fields about students, including details such as family relationships, reasons for enrollment changes (such as sicknesses, or being a victim of a serious violent incident)

    Wow. Sounds like a gross invasion of privacy. If I was the student, I wouldn't want my teacher to know that I was a "victim of a serious violent incident". Not to mention once this kind of data gets into a database, its pretty dang hard to get it permanently scrubbed. So, what do the students get out of giving away their personal details?

    Over the last year, the incredibly talented team at inBloom has developed and introduced a technical solution that addresses the complex challenges that teachers, educators and parents face when trying to best utilize the student data available to them. That solution can provide a high impact and cost-effective service to every school district across the country, enabling teachers to more easily tailor education to students’ individual learning needs.

    Do teachers really need all this information to teach effectively? Do teachers even have the time to prowl through these thick databases to "tailor" their teaching methods? And what's wrong with teachers getting this information they need the old fashioned way -by winning the trust and confidence of the student/parent and being told directly? And is the student's teacher the only one privy to this information?

    Even more fundamentally, it is fair to pigeonhole the students, each of whom are unique individuals with their own feelings, drives, desires and motivations into anonymous datasets and discrete categories so that they can be dealt with by the numbers?

    This initiative seems to have been very badly thought out. Humans are not machines.

Think of it! With VLSI we can pack 100 ENIACs in 1 sq. cm.!