Scrutiny in California for educational software in schools
A leading California lawmaker plans to introduce state legislation Thursday that would shore up privacy and security protections for the personal information of students in elementary through high school, a move that could alter business practices across the nearly $8 billion education technology software industry.
The bill would prohibit education-related websites, online services and mobile apps for kindergartners through 12th-graders from compiling, using or sharing the personal information of those students in California for any reason other than what the school intended or for product maintenance.
The bill would also prohibit the operators of those services from using or disclosing the information of students in the state for commercial purposes like marketing. It would oblige the firms to encrypt students’ data in transit and at rest, and it would require them to delete a student’s record when it is no longer needed for the purpose the school intended.
“We don’t want to limit the legitimate use of students’ data by schools or teachers,” Sen. Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who is the sponsor of the bill and the president pro tempore of the California Senate, said in a phone interview. “We just think the public policy of California should be that the information you gather from students should be used for their educational benefit and for nothing else.”
Lawmakers like Steinberg are part of a growing cohort of children’s advocates who say they believe that regulation has failed to keep pace with the rapid adoption of education software and services by schools across the country.
A federal law, called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, limits the disclosure of students’ educational records by schools that receive federal funding. But some student advocates contend that an exception in the law, allowing the outsourcing of public school functions to private companies, may reveal personal information, hypothetically making children vulnerable to predatory practices.
The prekindergarten to 12th-grade education software market in the United States reached $7.97 billion in the 2011-12 school year, compared with $7.5 billion two years earlier, according to estimates from the Software and Information Industry Association, a trade group.
By regulating industry rather than schools, the bill intends to prevent businesses exploiting information like students’ names, ages, locations, or lunch preferences, said James P. Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based children’s advocacy group.