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$100 Million Student Database Worries Parents 250

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-the-erasers-in-one-basket dept.
asjk writes "The controversial database includes millions of children and documents their names, addresses, disabilities other statistics and demographics. Federal law allows for the files to be shared with private companies. From the article: 'In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school - even homework completion. Local education officials retain legal control over their students' information. But federal law allows them to share files in their portion of the database with private companies selling educational products and services."
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$100 Million Student Database Worries Parents

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @10:43AM (#43067433)

    permanent record. I thought it was a bluff!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @10:45AM (#43067455)

    I, for one, will be naming my future son Robert'); DROP TABLE Students;-- .

  • by jvarsoke (80870) on Monday March 04, 2013 @10:47AM (#43067477)

    Apparently none of these parents have heard of Facebook.

    • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:02AM (#43067647) Journal

      Apparently none of these parents have heard of Facebook.

      Except that users have some measure of control over what is on their Facebook page and participation is with their consent. Neither appear to be the case with this database.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Apparently none of these parents have heard of Facebook.

      Most people don't publish their real DOB or their SSN and learning disabilities on their FB page.

      There's a big difference between those pieces of information and the typical mundane things I've seen on folks' FB page - like pictures of their dog in a hat.

      • by alen (225700)

        really?

        so i'm wishing happy birthday to people on the wrong day?

        • by tapspace (2368622)

          Possibly. Are you wishing 'happy birthday' to people you never talk to? I used to get those errant happy birthdays from about 5-10 idiots once a year on my myspace and 5-10 more on my facebook on some other random date. (Now, I just don't use those sites.)

        • In many cases, they omit or falsify the year which is often the most valuable portion of the birthdate.

          Personally, I just leave mine off altogether. Might be why I've only had one person remember my birthday today, which is fine by me.

          • In many cases, they omit or falsify the year which is often the most valuable portion of the birthdate.

            Which can be gleaned quite closely by looking at their HS graduation year. Or if they've not provided that, look at their friends. Find a big cluster in one particular year, bingo, that's probably it.
          • Happy Birthday.
      • Most people don't publish their real DOB or their SSN and learning disabilities on their FB page.

        Do you even use Facebook? Pretty much everyone under forty or so uses their real DOB. So far as disabilities go, people practically brag about them routinely - when they aren't blaming every failure in their lives on them. (OK, these are self-diagnosed disabilities...)
         
        You're right about the SSN though.

    • by tapspace (2368622)

      There's no law against providing Facebook with false information...

    • by steelfood (895457)

      Yes, but Facebook parents have (an illusion of at least) control over. This database, well, you couldn't take your child off even if you tried.

    • by RevDisk (740008)
      Facebook is optional. This would not be.
    • Sure the parents have heard of Facebook by now. And the grandparents, too. That's why some teens are using other things now instead. Teens do not want their parents and grandparents to know what they are up to: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57572154-93/why-teens-are-tiring-of-facebook/ [cnet.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... don't build a database of ruin [hbr.org].

    So yes, those parents are right to be worried.

    • by afidel (530433) on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:03AM (#43067667)

      Agreed, putting PHI (which is what disabilities should be classified as) into a database open to corporate fishing is just asking for problems. It's not like this data is going to ever go away, so it's likely these children will have their disability brought up during an interview 20 years from now (or not, they'll likely just be dropped into the round file as not worth interviewing). I can't believe that the US doesn't have some type of data privacy law beyond HIPAA, I wonder what type of incident it will take before people will wake up and demand that this kind of idiocy is shut down?

      • by HiThere (15173)

        It would need to be something that affected large numbers of people in most states violently. Even that might not be enough. Some legislators would favor big companies (or even just companies) even if a majority of their voters had written in objecting. (I've got at least one Senator that I feel that describes.)

      • Also that gets into Gattaca grade problems because data "wants to be abused!" (To abuse a phrase!) So what's stopping insurance companies from playing games with it as well as employers?

  • Uhm, yea. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RevDisk (740008) on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:04AM (#43067679) Journal
    Unless they have an insanely awesome security team and very rigorous employee screening, this will not end well.

    The smarter way to handle it would be to replace personal information with UIDs. School districts alone can map UIDs to actual students. It'd be relatively trivial to implement, on either side. Sure, if someone crouched the numbers hard enough, they might be able to use analysis to collate the data to individuals. But that'd be enough to keep random stalkers, pedos, abusive parent with a restraining order against them, etc at bay.

    If I was the non-profit running the DB, I'd be strongly pushing for something like that to absolve me of the liability and risk. Less persistent threats if the data is only useful to the student, school and statistics folks. The data, especially anonymized, would be VERY useful for curriculum research and development.
  • by bradley13 (1118935) on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:07AM (#43067727) Homepage

    What kind of country allows this kind of information to be tracked "en masse", much less sells it to private companies? It reminds me of the credit-rating agencies:P private companies that somehow are magically authorized to suck up all of your financial information and sell it. At least the US finally added the ability for you to "freeze" your credit data. That's the wrong way around - they ought to have to actively ask for permission, but it's better than nothing.

      Now your kids need to be able to "freeze" their school data. Worse, the US is continually trying to force its lack of privacy on the rest of the world, most recently with FATCA.

    It's a crying shame that the US Constitution forgot to list privacy as a basic right to be guaranteed by the government, right next to life and liberty. Failing that, you guys really need to get some privacy laws on the books!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      One thing that's amazing to me about this... and continues to amaze me is the discrepancy between what private corporations are allowed to get away with and what researchers at nonprofit universities and organizations have to put up with to get something much smaller and more innocuous done.

      For example, if this was a research project at a university, it would probably be dead in the water due to IRB ethical concerns about privacy, etc. In the very least, it would probably require opt-in from parents.

      However

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      It's a crying shame that the US Constitution forgot to list privacy as a basic right to be guaranteed by the government, right next to life and liberty.

      The Constitution doesn't say what government isn't allowed to do, it says what government is allowed to do. And I think anyone other than a lawyer would have a hard time finding authority in there for this kind of boondoggle.

      But over the last few decades people have been happy to ignore the Constitution when they're getting things they want, and then act surprised when they're getting unconstitutional things they don't want.

  • by Dunkirk (238653) * <david@davidkrider. c o m> on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:16AM (#43067871) Homepage

    The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states.

    All it looks like to me is a $100M SQL Server project for Microsoft, secured by the former CEO for his friends back at the home office.

    • All it looks like to me is a $100M SQL Server project for Microsoft, secured by the former CEO for his friends back at the home office.

      Which is one of many reasons why the team-up between Gates and Buffet to create the largest charitable organization in the world (I believe it is an order of magnitude better funded than the second runner up) is a dangerous thing. Not just because it is a way to funnel money into Microsoft, but mainly because it puts so much control of so much charitable work into the hands of such a small group of people. Even if you like how Gates thinks, it still means that the blindspots of those people become blindsp

  • Scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Murdoch5 (1563847) on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:20AM (#43067927)

    attitudes toward school - even homework completion

    I'm confused on what this point has to do with the student. I never liked school growing up, I didn't like my teachers and I didn't like doing homework, yet I just graduated with my SECOND engineering degree. I'm pointing this out because what is going to happen from this database is private company's will see that Billy doesn't like going to school and assume incorrectly that Billy wont be a good employee when he grows up.

    This database is effectively a big profiling system that is designed to trap kids who don't feel that achieving is the most important thing in the world. How a kid feels about school really doesn't place any bearing on how they do in life overall, a kid that hates school can become an engineer well kids that love school end up drug addicts ( The "school lovers" I knew ). This database will not help kids in the long run, it will be used as a tool to track, record and hinder kids into adult hood, all because this database will track what Billy thinks of school and his teachers.

    • by fermion (181285)
      If a high school graduate is being hired for his or her first job and did not work, then yes, the high school record may be checked. And yes, if the student has not worked, has not learned to get to school on time and complete tasks, then it is a reasonable assumption that this kid would be a worse employee that someone who did manage to wake up every morning, get to work, and do a reasonable amount of work.

      Some will say that such a student will magically learn these skills when they are paid to so do, b

    • by Kjella (173770)

      This database is effectively a big profiling system that is designed to trap kids who don't feel that achieving is the most important thing in the world. How a kid feels about school really doesn't place any bearing on how they do in life overall, a kid that hates school can become an engineer well kids that love school end up drug addicts ( The "school lovers" I knew ).

      And a lot of kids and teens have huge swings growing up because they spent so much time living up to someone else's expectations and aspirations, particularly their parents or peers. Grades, sports, career, partying, whatever and the longer it goes on the harder the pendulum swings. You're really a B pupil but your parents won't take less than an A pupil so you're forced to study, study, study until you burn out and drop to a D student. Or maybe more relevant to Slashdot, the other kids hate nerds and so yo

    • by kermidge (2221646)

      I don't recall seeing "the need to meddle" in Maslow's hierarchy, but I've met too many people over the years who seem to have it; this DB and the tools who'll make the tools to manipulate (whoops, meant 'facilitate', right?) "the educational experience" will be for them a luxurious playground in which to mess people about.

      I understand the reasoning that one can't judge the effectiveness of a system, and cannot improve that effectiveness, without measurement. So, what is measured, how, by whom?

      Whatever the

  • Scary outcome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grayhand (2610049) on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:28AM (#43068033)
    There's no longer such a thing as a childhood. Anything you do or say practically from birth will be recorded and used against you. Have a bad year in grade school and some one will bring it up in your thirties when you apply for a job. A childhood prank and suddenly you are seen as a risky hire. It's already happening with social media as others are pointing out but imagine your whole school record available to employers and credit agencies? Even your criminal record is sealed when you turn 18 for a reason. One childhood mistake shouldn't ruin a life but they seem to have found a way. Perfect people will succeed, the rich as well since money can hide many sins, but the rest of us need to start worrying.
    • There are a lot of people moving out of the U.S. so their kids start in a different educational system.

      Of course, there is the old school defense of "this isn't me, somebody using my identity!"

      Therefore we need something like GMI [wikipedia.org] that will allow you to put food on the table or fulfill your parental responsibilities WITHOUT worrying what other people think or kissing asses.

    • There's no longer such a thing as a childhood. Anything you do or say practically from birth will be recorded and used against you.

      What planet did you grow up on? It's been like that for decades... if not forever. The only difference today is that it's recorded in a database rather than people's fallible memories.

  • by bickerdyke (670000) on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:30AM (#43068045)

    Isn't it neat when other people get to decide if they want to share YOUR personal data?

  • Database will be stolen in 5...4...3...

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:54AM (#43068419)

    On its face, the proposal to share student data with private companies seems to clearly violate FERPA [ed.gov], the federal law covering privacy of educational data. According to the article linked, the schools are claiming that it's OK, because when FERPA says it's OK for student data to be accessed by "School officials with legitimate educational interest", that really also means third-party contractors working for the schools. Apparently, the Department of Education has signed off on this. WTF? How can this possibly fit the legislative intent? It says "school officials", not "school vendors" or "school contractors". And there's a reason for that: actual school officials are subject to some level of public control and accountability, while private contractors are not.

    This plan should be challenged in court as a violation of federal law.

  • http://blogs.ajc.com/bob-barr-blog/2010/02/01/americans-say-%E2%80%9Cno%E2%80%9D-to-medical-database/ [ajc.com]

    Obama wants to do the same thing with medical records.

    I'm also a bit conflicted on the security aspect of the matter, what would any non-pedo's motive be for stealing / compromising this data? The only thing is it becomes a true permanent record in the sense that it can be easily retrieved 20 years down the line. But, another interesting aspect is, nobody that I know of that employees people actually looks

    • by tibman (623933)

      Digital medical records are great. You can visit any clinic or hospital that is wired up and they'll be able to access all your x-rays, notes, and prescriptions. Paper is fine though for people who've never moved and have a family doctor or something. I wouldn't be a fan if they sent parts of my record anywhere without my consent though.

  • From the linked Reuters article:
    > The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the
    > funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states. Amplify
    > Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, built the infrastructure over the past 18
    > months. When it was ready, the Gates Foundation turned the database over to a newly created
    > nonprofit, inBloom Inc, which will run it.

    I thought the Bill & Melind

  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Monday March 04, 2013 @02:25PM (#43070477)

    FTFA: The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,

    They label it as "personalized learning" but it could just as easily be used for "personalized hiring". Typical M$ spin applies easily here.

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