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Education Databases Government Privacy

Parents Mobilize Against States' Student Data Mining 139

theodp writes 'Politico reports that parents have mobilized into an unexpected political force to fight the data mining of their children, catapulting student privacy to prominence in statehouses. Having already torpedoed the $100 million, Bill Gates-funded inBloom database project, which could have made it easier for schools to share confidential student records with private companies, the amateur activists are now rallying against another perceived threat: huge state databases being built to track children for more than two decades, from as early as infancy through the start of their careers. "The Education Department," writes Stephanie Simon, "lists hundreds of questions that it urges states to answer about each child in the public school system: Did she make friends easily as a toddler? Was he disciplined for fighting as a teen? Did he take geometry? Does she suffer from mental illness? Did he go to college? Did he graduate? How much does he earn?" Leonie Haimson, a NY mother who is organizing a national Parent Coalition for Student Privacy says, "Every parent I've talked to has been horrified. We just don't want our kids tracked from cradle to grave." For their part, ed tech entrepreneurs and school reformers are both bewildered by and anxious about the backlash — and struggling to craft a response, having assumed parents would support their vision: to mine vast quantities of data for insights into what's working, and what's not, for individual students and for the education system as a whole. "People took for granted that parents would understand [the benefits], that it was self-evident," said Michael Horn, a co-founder an education think tank."
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Parents Mobilize Against States' Student Data Mining

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  • Re:Good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @05:11PM (#47183065) Homepage Journal

    Maybe it does. We haven't collectively decided to become an open society, though. So really all that's really happening is that people and their personal lives are being attacked from multiple directions.

    I think if we did decide to become a less private and personal culture, it wouldn't be a terrible dystopia, but that's sure as hell not my decision to make on the behalf of others. The default understood social contract of the US is one of separate and distinct personal and public lives.

  • Lack of Trust (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dave562 ( 969951 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @05:19PM (#47183135) Journal

    Every educator that I have known has acted with positive intent and a genuine desire to make the lives of future generations better. People do not go into education, especially in public schools, because they want to get rich or amass influence and personal power. They do so because they are gluttons for punishment and believe that it is their duty as human beings to make the world a better place.

    As a society, we see our data being used against us. Where as the educators are trying to track the effectiveness of their programs, citizens are fearful of the data being mined for nefarious purposes. Some things that come to mind are, increased healthcare premiums / denial of coverage. Denied job opportunities due to invasive background screening. I am sure that the concerns that people have are numerous.

    The other side of the equation is compelling though. If the educators are gathering data that showing people who failed or never took geometry end up making 50% less more than students who do pass geometry, they will more than likely look to tailor the curriculum to help students develop the skills and abilities required to pass geometry.

    The other issue is monetization of data. Nobody wants to be a product, especially if they are not receiving any benefits. To use the geometry example above, if the data sets are being mined to extrapolate data like, "Students who pass geometry are 50% more likely to purchase a luxury automobile." and that data is then sold to marketers to target Facebook advertising, people are going to be understandably upset.

    It all comes down to trust. Even if the educators can prove that their intentions are pure, what about the third parties they engage? What if the third party is initially pure, but then they go bankrupt and the personal data is sold as part of the liquidation of the company? Who is going to control what the fourth party does with it?

  • by matbury ( 3458347 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @06:17PM (#47183581) Homepage

    What's missing from the conversation is how internet surveillance data is actually used by real companies in the real world. The truth is shocking but we almost never hear about it. Here's an article from a UK satirical investigative journalism periodical:


    Dodgy data deals

    SILICON Roundabout is the groovy name for the UK tech sector, backed with taxpayer cash through Big Society organisations like Tech City Investment Organisation and the Technology Strategy Board and estimated to be worth £225bn, or 12% of GDP, by 2016. But since almost all this will come from "big data" - information gathered for marketing purposes - our blossoming industry might more accurately be called Surveillance Roundabout.

    Between them, consumer intelligence companies, credit reporting agencies and data marketing firms hold detailed and current information on almost the entire population. They often suffer data breaches at the hands of hackers, who then use the loot (name, address, national insurance number, etc) for identity theft and fraud. Since there is no law requiring big data companies to reveal hacking or even use encryption, it usually gets covered up. Only when the damage is massive do we see it in the news, as was the case with Experian, Barclays, Lexis-Nexis and Equifax recently.

    Besides safekeeping, such an intrusive industry raises another question: is sensitive personal information now mere merchandise? Most UK data brokers have sense enough to hide their creepier practices, but there are exceptions. Clear Data Ltd, based in Herefordshire, advertises lists of old people ("over 65 and mostly female") waiting to be targeted by quack doctors, boiler room conmen, telephone raffle operators, and pyramid schemers in need of credulous targets. Data Broker Limited, from Cheshire, caters to predatory lenders — "[if you're] offering new loans to people With poor credit history and [county court Judgments against them], Databroker have the largest list related to loans for postal, telephone, mobile, SMS, email and social media campaigns".

    The company also provides lists of consumers who "seek online relationships". If you can't get a loan or a shag, we'll let the right people know. Or if you're struggling with a betting habit, a firm like the Data Octopus of Manchester might pass on your details in one of its databases of habitual gamblers.

    While Washington is looking hard at Silicon Valley data brokers in the US, a recent Senate inquiry describing them as secretive and opaque, the chances of scrutiny here look slim, even though some of the biggest companies directly named in the inquiry report — Epsilon, Experian and Acxiom — also operate extensively in the UK.

    UK politicians love getting into bed with trendy tech companies — David Cameron has extensive connections with Google, the tax-dodging behemoth whose revenue model is data surveillance. And how many of our legislators and regulators know anything about the web? Judging by how the Data Protection Act is taken as a joke by techies and as a useless tool by prosecutors, few indeed."

    Source: Private Eye, No. 1632, 21st March - 3rd April, 2014, Page 31.

  • Re:Who benefits? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @07:40PM (#47184103)

    Done right - yes, the kids.

    Education is not done at the moment in general in a rational manner.

    The process is typically that a politician gets an idea. (which they may even believe).
    They then either implement this in their area of influence, or if they are especially progressive, do a poorly setup trial, which they then ignore before rolling it out.

    The problem is things that seem reasonable often produce the exact opposite result.

    Take for example 'Scared Straight' programs - where troubled teens are taken on prison visits, to see what future awaits them and to help turn their life around. Seems obvious it'll work, so nobody checked.
    Unfortunately, when they did:
    'A study by Anthony Petrosino and researchers at the Campbell Collaboration analyzed results from nine Scared Straight programs and found that such programs generally increased crime up to 28 percent in the experimental group when compared to a no-treatment control group. ... found that youth who participate in Scared Straight and other similar deterrence programs have higher recidivism rates than youth in control groups.'

    There is real debate as to the best way to teach kids to read.
    Proper statistics measuring outcomes for each way answers this.

    Should this data ever be available outside education, and should there be extreme penalties for using such data in such contexts as insurance- of course not, and yes!.
    (I'd start at a million dollars per offence) []

  • Re:Good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by knightghost ( 861069 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @09:01PM (#47184471)

    Parents that I know aren't bothered that information is being gathered, but what is being gathered, who uses it, and how they use it. "Did he/she make friends in 1st grade" is not something you want dragging around decades later. We've already had laws passed banning the use of DNA for excluding people - now people are revolting against their digital DNA running into the same abuses. Maybe we should start calling it "eDNA" as a comparison that people understand.

The road to ruin is always in good repair, and the travellers pay the expense of it. -- Josh Billings