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Microsoft Calls for Student Privacy Commitment from Cloud Industry

In a week of heated rhetoric over student privacy, Microsoft has issued a call to industry to commit to protecting student data, at least as it pertains to student data in the cloud.

The privacy and security of student data is coming increasingly under the microscope as policymakers like Sen. Edward Markey and advocacy groups like EPIC have begun pushing for statutory protections against the accessibility, handling and potential commercial exploitation of data collected by schools about children.

A study released in December by the Center for Law and Information Policy at Fordham University found that 95 percent of American School districts it examined use the cloud to store and access student data for some purpose (from transportation or cafeteria payment information to student grades and guidance records), 80 percent lack a policy on the use of cloud services, and more than 75 percent of cloud contracts fail to specify "the purpose for disclosures of student information." What's more, greater than 93 percent of cloud contracts with schools fail to contain restrictions on "the sale or marketing of student information by vendors, and many agreements allow vendors to change the terms without notice."

It also found:

  • 75 percent of districts using cloud services fail to inform parents about the cloud services used to store their kids' information;
  • School cloud service contracts do not, by and large, contain provisions requiring extra security in the handling of student data; and
  • A "sizeable plurality of districts have rampant gaps in their contract documentation, including missing privacy policies."

In a blog post today, Microsoft's vice president of U.S. education, Margo Day, said there's a unique opportunity now for education and industry to come together "to solve many of the issues highlighted in the study. In particular, the study demonstrates that our industry needs to step up and be a better partner with schools by being more transparent about how we handle their data and by agreeing to clear restrictions on how we will use their data, including agreeing not use such data for advertising, sales or marketing purposes."

She also made explicit Microsoft's stand on the use of student data: "Microsoft firmly believes advertising and marketing uses of student data should not be permitted by service providers. Further, contracts with schools should state these concepts in clear and unambiguous terms."

The complete Fordham study can be found at law.fordham.edu.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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