Major tech companies selling software to educational institutions have recently voiced support for stronger student data privacy by signing a pledge, The New York Times reported. The move by these tech companies - including Microsoft and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - marks a turning point for the almost $8 billion ed tech industry in protecting student data privacy. Over the past year, the industry has been criticized by parents and teachers for profiting off the information collected by the same software meant to enrich education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The companies that sign the pledge introduced by Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) promise to be more transparent about how student information is used, according to the website for the privacy pledge. The pledge said firms will not sell student information and only use the data for allowed educational purposes.
"We wanted to say to parents: 'No one's going to sell your kids' data; nobody's going to track your child around the Internet; no one's going to compile a profile that is used against your child when they apply for a job 20 years later,'" said Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the FPF, according to the Times.
The Times noted some of the tech companies that have added their signatures to the pledge have given the Future Privacy Forum funds.
Enhanced Security a Focus in Privacy Pledge
The need to increase privacy protection and security of student data comes after data breaches and cyberattacks against educational institutions have amplified, which could make children more vulnerable to identity theft. Hackers may want to steal children's information held by schools to take advantage of the students' clean credit histories.
The pledge also focuses on enhancing security for student information, such as implementing better security standards. The provisions of the pledge will be in effect by Jan. 1, 2015. After signing the pledge, companies were applauded for their actions, Education Week reported.
Although some critics of the ed tech industry said the pledge shows companies are getting serious about student privacy, others want to see more action from the government to enforce the pledge, Education Week reported in July. A new bill called the Protecting Student Privacy Act made its debut in Congress in July. The legislation aims to prevent companies from selling student information for advertising and marketing purposes.
With actions to increase privacy protection from both the private and public sector, ed tech companies may be held more accountable for incidents that impact student privacy.