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School Data Profiteering

How far will corporations go to make a profit? They have no shame in manipulating other organizations and societies to make money. Corporations have gone as far as using education to make a profit. inBloom, a non-profit organization, has begun to test new cloud-based software that will collect students information from their school records with the mindset of individualizing the education of each student. Although inBloom is non-profit, it has a long list of corporate partners. The corporations get access to view student data and use it as they see fit, in return for their partnership. The information inBloom collects goes further than the students school history; it is now digging into the student’s personal information. For example the data inBloom collects includes teen pregnancy and foster care. inBloom supports education reforms such as greater reliance on standardized testing and merit-based pay, both of which are unpopular with teacher unions. Not only are these corporations violating student privacy, they are not allowing consent from the parents or an option to opt out of the data collection. At what point will corporations realize that what they are doing is wrong?

Dan Schneider, “School Data Profiteering. Data-collecting software is riling privacy and education activists.” Dollars & Sense, May/June, 2013.

http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/wp/2013/0513schneider.html

Student Researcher: Michelle Barnett, Indian River State College

Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College

ETHICS ALERT

Usually students’ permanent records show grades and disciplinary problems. But how would they feel if their permanent records included personal information such as divorced parents or foster care? Starting at the end of 2012, a non-profit organization named inBloom began testing cloud based software to gather information from student records. inBlooms goal is to individualize students’ education. Although a non-profit organization, inBloom is working with for-profit companies to reach their goal. Partnering up with these companies means granting them access to student data to do with it as they please. Is it morally correct to share a student’s personal information? Is it ethical for inBloom and company to use students as a way to make money?

Individualizing student’s education may be a nice idea but not with inBloom’s plan. Incorporating a student’s personal information into their permanent record is not the way to handle this. Not only students, but parents also, are unaware of inBloom’s plan and what the school districts may be doing. “There’s not a single school district that’s allowing parents the right of consent, or to opt out of the program,” Leonie Haimson told Dollars & Sense. Haimson is the executive director of Class Size Matters, an advocacy organization for smaller class sizes. Part of being ethical means not treating any human merely as a means to end but that is exactly what these corporations are doing. They are treating these students as object so that they can make a profit. Haimson also identified the absence of certainty in inBloom’s privacy policy. InBloom’s privacy policy states that the company “cannot guarantee the security of the information” or that the “information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”

The Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), an advocacy group which seeks to decommercialize the lives of American children, also is against what inBloom is doing and has started a campaign against them. Private corporations using students’ information to make a profit worries the CCFC. CCFC associate director Josh Golin said “Unlike school officials who are trained and have specific rules and restrictions about the use of student data, these are huge companies with lots of divisions that this data would be interesting to.” CCFC is working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Massachusetts Parent Teachers Assocation (PTA) to contest inBloom and their plan to exploit students.

Another issue concerns the role teachers would have in this new system. According to Golin “The role of the teacher is to input data, to be a data collector, and to pass on lessons designed by algorithms and apps back to their students. The expertise is in the cloud, not in the teacher.” Would all teachers be required to do this? This makes teachers accomplices in making personal student information available to corporations to exploit.

Corporations will do whatever it takes to make a profit. Is it ethical? No. But they do it anyway. inBloom is a non-profit organization, using corporations who have no problem in making a profit any way possible, to reach its goal of individualizing student education. Parents and students are unable to opt out and therefore have no choice in the matter. It is clearly unethical to exploit students’ private information for profit. Students have much more to fear now that personal information such as foster care and teen pregnancy will be included in their permanent records, which is, in turn, subject to privacy violations by corporations.

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