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This Week in Student Privacy: 11/18

Mozilla announces Polaris, a new privacy initiative
In coordination with the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) and the Tor Project, Mozilla has announced a “strategic initiative . . . called Polaris.” Under Polaris, Mozilla will be running two experiments. In one, “Mozilla engineers are evaluating the Tor Project’s changes to Firefox, to determine if changes to our own platform codebase can enable Tor to work more quickly and easily. Mozilla will also soon begin hosting our own high-capacity Tor middle relays to make Tor’s network more responsive and allow Tor to serve more users.” The second experiment “seeks to understand how we can offer a feature that protects those users that want to be free from invasive tracking without penalizing advertisers and content sites that respect a user’s preferences.” To learn more, check out the wiki.

Seattle Public Schools Students’ Information Improperly Released
In several letters to parents, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Interim Superintendent Larry Nyland announced that a law firm contracting with SPS had disclosed information on over 7,400 students to an individual legal guardian, who is involved in a lawsuit over special-education services for his ward. Sam Morley, the legal guardian of a student at Roosevelt High School, “alerted district officials on Tuesday that he had received, via email, documents with information about individual students, including whole special-education plans, disciplinary records, student test scores and transportation records with students’ names and home addresses...Morley says in his letter that he brought the issue to the district’s attention a few weeks ago when he’d received a few documents with sensitive information [about students other than his ward], but nothing was done and the law firm then emailed a much larger batch.” At this time, Morley’s case has been reassigned and the “school district is asking for assistance from the U.S. Department of Education to investigate how it happened.” (For video coverage see KING 5 News.)

Student sues University of Montana for violation of privacy rights
A law student at University of Montana, Daniel Knudsen, filed against UM this week. “Knudsen’s complaint, filed on behalf of all students enrolled at UM from spring 2010 to the present, claims the university illegally released his and others’ personally identifiable information to Connecticut-based Higher One Holdings, a vendor that handles UM’s electronic refunds.” Peggy Kuhr, UM Vice President for Integrated Communications, says, “We feel very strongly that we protected the claimant’s privacy...in the state of Montana, we understand that the courts have never held subcontracted obligations and this kind of exchange of information to be a violation of an individual’s privacy.” (For video coverage see ABC Fox Montana.)

Privacy breach at University of Toronto Advanced Planning for Students (UTAPS)
Canada: Some University of Toronto students received emails indicating that they had been awarded funding through UTAPS, “only to find that they had also been sent 179 files containing sensitive information that was not theirs.” The files “contained students’ names, street addresses, award amounts, student numbers, and faculties of study.” According to the executive director of enrollment services, “the leak occurred due to a coding error in the program that matched the emails with the attachments.”

ClassDojo and other student behavior tracking apps raise privacy concerns
Natasha Singer at the New York Times raises questions about how teachers are using ClassDojo in their classrooms, its effectiveness as a classroom discipline tool, and how consent is obtained from teachers and parents. “Sam Chaudhary, the co-founder of ClassDojo, said his company recently updated its privacy policy to say that it does not ‘sell, lease or share your (or children’s) personal information to any third party’ for advertising or marketing.” However, a separate section of the privacy policy states that ClassDojo “may show users advertisements ‘based in part on your personally identifiable information.’”

Judge rules that school staff did not breach student’s privacy by reading text
Canada: Justice Murray Acton dismissed a claim filed by a student’s family against the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division for breach of privacy, writing that “‘if there were any actions which were inappropriate or not within normal standards of protocol, they would have been actions of the police, not (the vice-principal or teacher).’” Hannah Spray at the StarPhoenix reports that “the incident began when the student's teacher, Monica Jones, noticed the boy texting in class - a violation of school policy - and took the phone from him, turning it over to vice-principal Dwayne Tournier. In court, Tournier said the words ‘we stole a car’ caught his eye when he scanned the subject line of a received text message.” The lawsuit alleged that “after the school contacted police, an officer got the boy to text the sender back about the car’s location and then took him in a cruiser to identify the vehicle.”

Additional Articles/Resources

  • National Association of Secondary School Principals releases set of recommendations to help safeguard student privacy:According to the NASSP, student data should be used solely to inform ‘education policy, practice, and research and to deliver educational services to students.’” The recommendations, which can be found here, address federal, state, and district level policymakers. EdWeek reports that “the public will have 60 days to comment on the recommendations.”
  • The Editorial Board of The Heights (Boston College’s student newspaper) has written an op-ed regarding last week’s news about Harvard University’s study on student attendance. The Staff of The Crimson (Harvard’s student newspaper) also weighed in.

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