Dear Commons Community,
inBloom, funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with infrastructure built by a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, was in the media with a featured article in the New York Times Business Section today. Using Jefferson County School District in Colorado as a case study, the reporter, Natasha Singer, interviewed the superintendent, Cynthia Stevenson, who was hoping to be more efficient in data management of her student records but after contracting with inBloom faced a firestorm five months later with school board members and parents. As reported in the article:
“We are joining the new generation of data management,” Dr. Stevenson said enthusiastically in the March issue of “Chalk Talk,” the school district’s newsletter for parents.
She did not imagine that five months later, she would be sitting in a special school board meeting in the district’s headquarters, listening as a series of parents, school board members and privacy lawyers assailed the plan to outsource student data storage to inBloom. What troubled the naysayers at that August session was that the district seemed to be rushing to increase data-sharing before weighing the risks of granting companies access to intimate details about children. They noted that administrators had no policies in place to govern who could see the information, how long it would be kept or whether it would be shared with the colleges to which students applied.
“Students are currently subject to more forms of tracking and monitoring than ever before,” Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer at the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington who appeared via video conferencing, told the room packed with parents. “While we understand the value of data for promoting and evaluating personalized learning, there are too few safeguards for the amount of data collected and transmitted from schools to private companies.”
Jefferson County is not the only place where parents have challenged the adoption of inBloom. Parents in Louisiana raised a ruckus after discovering that their children’s Social Security numbers had been uploaded to inBloom. In April, Louisiana officials said they would remove all student data from the database. Of the nine states that originally signed up this year to participate, just three — Colorado, New York and Illinois — are actively pursuing the service.
Still, that accounts for a lot of children. New York State has already uploaded data on 90 percent of 2.7 million public school and charter students — data stripped of identifiers like students’ names — into inBloom; state education officials plan to upload a complete set soon, including names.
In New York City, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio who is the Democratic nominee for mayor, sent a scathing letter to city and state officials earlier this year protesting the contract to inBloom, stating: “I don’t want my kids’ privacy bought and sold like this,” he said.
States and school districts would be wise to steer clear of participating in any national database. The federal government which spearheaded the inBloom project is incapable of guaranteeing privacy. And any product developed by the Gates Foundation in concert with a Rupert Murdoch operation should send red flags to every school administrator who cares about their children.