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Databases Education Privacy

$100 Million Student Database Worries Parents 250

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 realmolo ( 574068 ) on Monday March 04, 2013 @10:46AM (#43067469)

    Local school administrators are worthless pieces of shiat, that are looking to scam as much money as possible for themselves and their cronies.

    I expect that nearly EVERY district is already in talks with various marketing firms about how much this data is worth.

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

    Apparently none of these parents have heard of Facebook.

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday March 04, 2013 @10:48AM (#43067485)

    Whatever the situation is, it sure seems like a huge moral hazard for local school administrators. They have an ethical obligation to protect children's data, but they have a self-interest in successful careers, which can be judged by how much money they bring into the district.

    My guess is that money and status trumps children's privacy, even among the people you'd presume "think of the children."

  • by will_die ( 586523 ) on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:01AM (#43067623) Homepage
    The summary is more scare mongering.
    The database is designed to be run by an non-profit and will give the school administrators a free service, may be pay in the future, where the administrators can enter the information of the their students. The original cost of this was done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundatation.
    The database can then produce reports for the school and be used for tracking the status of the student.
    The thing about the federal law allowing it is fear mongering. Federal law does not prevent it provided the school officials allow it; if the school officials did not allow the use of the system then it would be illegal.
    Companies are allowed limited access to the data and only at a high level if they are providing services and teaching material. So a company could have a product that is aimed at students doing poor in math but high in science and they would be able to identify that a school has such students and tell the school about their product.
  • 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.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:04AM (#43067689)

    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 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!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:13AM (#43067823)

    Federal law allows for the files to be shared with private companies

    Federal law - read as Congress person was bri...lobbied into making it legal for big corps to mine children's data.

    The people you should be pissed at are in DC. Punish them by voting them out of office.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:14AM (#43067827)

    I'd suggest we look back on the track record of such databases.

    I won't go and track down the links (There's a link somewhere to the famous HBR "Database of Ruin" article, and that has a number of good links).

    However, when you have potential for profit and money, you have almost certain abuses.

    When you have people (humans), administering these types of databases, you have certain (100%) abuses. There are a number of documented cases of cops abusing DMV and arrest report DBs for purposes of harassment, stalking and revenge.

    There are "grey" private detectives that are called "skip tracers." If you want to find out more, check out this book [], called "How to Disappear."

    This database WILL be misused. It may come back to haunt folks in thirty years.

    I was able to rack up a pretty significant juvenile record, way back in the "paper era." I'm real glad that was never tracked, although I'll bet it would bubble to the surface if I ever wanted to work for the NSA.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:24AM (#43067983)

    The same reason Democrats keep winning the Northeast. The base is retarded.

    By openly expressing your inability to count to two, you can be sure you are in the database.

  • 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.
  • by grantspassalan ( 2531078 ) on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:38AM (#43068179)

    Any time a person needs permission from the government for any activity, including homeschooling, and such permission is denied for whatever reason, it becomes effectively illegal to do that particular activity, including homeschooling. In Sweden and in other countries, permission is required from a government official. If this permission is denied, there is no appeal in many places. You can look at the article here: []

  • 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 [], 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.

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Monday March 04, 2013 @12:07PM (#43068599)

    I disagree, you entire notion is just loony talk.

    Would you say driving is illegal? You need permission to do that and sometimes it is denied.

    Homeschooling is often done because people want to keep their children uneducated. That should be prevented, it is simply child abuse.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @12:12PM (#43068679)

    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, when private for-profit institutions are involved, somehow it's a free-for-all and no ethical principles are required. I see this over and over and over again, not just in educational settings but in other settings as well. I've been involved with corporations in research, and it's mind-blowing how much easier it is to get things done (note that I'm not saying that easier is always bad--sometimes it's bad that it's so difficult for nonprofit researchers to conduct research that has essentially no risk)

    This is disturbing to me for all the same reasons that are being mentioned, but another layer of it to me--the icing on the cake--is that there's not even some sort of prioritization of who has access--it's like not only are privacy concerns thrown out the window, they're thrown out the window to the people who are most likely to abuse the privacy laws because of profit incentives.

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Monday March 04, 2013 @12:12PM (#43068683)

    When parents are the ones doing the homeschooling you can.

    Even you admit that most of these cases are religious nutters. I am not sure why they don't just test for some knowledge and terminate homeschooling for that family if the kids fail.

  • by worf_mo ( 193770 ) on Monday March 04, 2013 @12:26PM (#43068929)

    If I had mod points you'd get one. Some parents prefer their children at work instead of at school. They want the quick buck now, and don't put much thought into their kids' future. Obligatory school attendance can help cut down on child labor.

  • by Bob the Super Hamste ( 1152367 ) on Monday March 04, 2013 @12:48PM (#43069257) Homepage
    Yet there is always money for inflatable covered sports fields, to acquire the newest gadget, golden parachutes for failed administrators, excessive numbers of administrators and other non teaching staff, all expenses paid trips to go to conferences in other states, and all sorts of fringe benefits for superintendents. The best teacher I had in high school used a slide projector and chalk boards and that was in the '90s. If someone could explain to me how smart boards, teachers having iPads, teachers having laptops, or any other silly gadgetry in the class helps students learn I am all ears. From what I have seen it may help initially because of enthusiasm but after a few years the results go back to where they were. Please explain why a school needs a Principal, 2 or 3 vice principals, a disciplinary administrator or 2, a staff of 5 to 10 emotional counselors/therapists, 5 to 10 career counselors, multiple secretaries for the administration to support the bureaucracy and on and on. Add in things like the competition for having the best sports equipment and fields and the need to acquire the shiniest new gadgetry and it becomes hard to say schools are under funded and not just poorly managed. Cut all that other crap and if the school is still short on money then come talk to me until then figure out how to manage my tax dollars properly.

"Yeah, but you're taking the universe out of context."