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Student Privacy in the Cloud Computing Ecosystem

Student Privacy in the Cloud Computing Ecosystem

State of Play & Potential Paths Forward


This report draws from ongoing Student Privacy Initiative research as well as participant inputs from an April 2013 exploratory workshop, "Student Privacy in the Cloud Computing Ecosystem," to begin to map the current landscape and connect the often-siloed perspectives of educational institutions, students, parents, and administrators as well as cloud service providers and policy makers.

Following the workshop, the Berkman Center distilled a number of high-level observations that may be particularly critical in informing and catalyzing both future research and action. Some of the key points include the following:

  • Expanding educational and knowledge sharing efforts will be integral to engage parents, students, and teachers alongside representatives from a variety of disciplines. These diverse stakeholders may have vastly different baseline knowledge of relevant issues—from cloud computing to privacy concerns to regulatory considerations—and addressing these differences may require a multi-pronged approach. In particular, it will be important to share up-to-date information about rapidly developing educational technologies so that potential users can better understand what data vendors might access and collect as well as what the vendor might do with this data.
  • Developing a shared vocabulary and understanding of privacy and technological termswill be central to future research, outreach, policy, and educational efforts. Taxonomies and guides can help to cultivate a shared language and bolster communication and collaboration across educational, commercial, and regulatory settings.
  • Good practices and draft standards, especially around contractual practices and terms of service, represent a fruitful area for attention. Stakeholders should enter this space in close communication with vendors and industry representatives.
  • Ongoing normative analysis and discussion will be critical in grappling with the many dimensions of the topic and considering how core technologies, opportunities, and behaviors may evolve. In particular, the rapid emergence of data analytics technologies raise important questions about how existing legal frameworks should be interpreted or evolve. This dialogue should be grounded in real-world examples and data, and address open questions such as whether and how cloud technologies support broader educational values and if so, what specific value trade-offs may be involved.

This report offers many more concrete details regarding research, policymaking, outreach, and engagement around student privacy and cloud computing.

By considering norms and values alongside the opportunities for research, policymaking, outreach, and engagement around student privacy and cloud computing in the working road map, the Berkman Center looks forward to continuing the dialogue around this timely and important topic as part of its evolving privacy research agenda.