Privacy Issues in Education

The use of technology in the classroom is a double edged sword. While digital technologies can foster a more dynamic and interactive environment in your university or college, there are also some privacy concerns to keep in mind. Using information systems like Portal and Acorn, educational apps like Edmodo and Dropbox, and tools like Microsoft Office and Google Suite carries a series of privacy and security risks you should keep in mind. Opting out of these services may not seem feasible but staying informed about digital issues can help you stay current with developments in your university.  

Outsourcing of personal information

As a university or college student, email may be your main form of correspondence with professors, university services, clubs etc. However, is all the information stored in your individual email accounts secure? In 2017, the University of Toronto (UofT) transferred email data from the United States to servers in Canada. Since 2011, email data was being outsourced to Microsoft in the United States. Similarly, other Canadian universities are also outsourcing their data to “free” vendors like Google and Microsoft in the United States as opposed to developing their own secure servers.

Concerns with outsourcing personal data

The main concerns with outsourcing of information* revolve around mass data collection by third parties, how that information will be used, what happens in case of informational breaches, and how foreign governmental institutions in the United States are able to access and view our data.

* Outsourcing of data: a practise of moving and storing digital data to an external contracted third party to reduce 
costs and increase efficiency.
Passive data collection by third parties

How will third party actors that may not share in our educational interests collect, use, store, and/or potentially sell our personal data? How do different companies respect and manage our personal data? While collection of data may be passive and not appear to be of much concern, third party companies collect more personal student information than is necessary, while the retention period for storing this information may remain unclear. Personal data being collected may extend beyond basic information such as your name and age into things such as: your search history, contacts, location, academic record, and online activity.

Information breaches

Another concern with collection of data by third party actors is in regards to information breaches. For example, in 2017 a popular educational tool– Edmodo was hacked, where personal data from 77 million accounts was published on a public hacking forum. Information released included names, emails, and hashed passwords of users.

Typecasting and permanent digital records

Collection of personal data by digital educational services may also result in typecasting of individuals by creating a permanent digital record, (which may not be an accurate representation of the individual). Collection of data may take place with little consent from the student, while let’s be honest, opting out from using certain educational cloud services may not be a viable option.

Looking Ahead

While it may seem that our privacy is being compromised no matter how we engage with the internet and different social platforms, it is important to be informed about how your personal data is being utilized. We hope to give you some food for thought and to provide you with resources that can best help you navigate your digital footprints. For more information on how you can protect your privacy, check out Section 11 and our #TalkBacktoTech page.

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