Local edtech companies can gain edge with student data promise

Local edtech companies can gain edge with student data promise


New Zealand education technology companies pledge not to spy on schoolchildren.

Edtech surveillance by multinational technology companies to collect personal data from students is sparking controversy, enforcement measures and court cases in the US and Europe.

The NZ Tech Alliance said it was unclear whether these practices occurred in New Zealand.

However, cash-strapped schools were forced to rely on free software from major offshore vendors with questionable data collection practices, the alliance said.

Critics say the quid pro quo is that providers get to collect student data, sell it to data brokers, for advertising, but also use AI to assess and guide student learning in an opaque way .

“If the product is free, then you are the product,” said Dave Moskovitz, board member of the alliance’s EdTechNZ sub-group.

Local products and services usually aren’t free, he said.

The government’s position still favored global big tech, but local companies could use the inbound engagement to differentiate themselves, Moskovitz said.

“What it allows local software providers to do is say, ‘We care about privacy, and these are the ways we care about privacy, and this is how we’re going to manage this important taonga of your students.’

“Try to pull something like that off one of the overseas rigs; you won’t.”

The pledge, which has been published in draft form, will be a pledge not to share student data with third parties or use it to advertise to students.

The Ministry of Education’s two biggest edtech contracts are with Microsoft and Google.

Both companies say they protect student data, but have been subject to restrictions and court cases overseas.

Moskovitz said the ministry was very slowly showing signs of starting to listen to local edtech.

“The ministry will claim … that they don’t want to favor anyone, but in fact … they do favor the big platforms because they have these big global contracts with them.”

It would be an improvement if Microsoft and AWS set up data centers in New Zealand, so student data was not stored offshore, but this form of “data residency” was no substitute for “data sovereignty” real where total control was maintained here, he said. said

EdTechNZ published a 92-page report last year, but it barely mentioned privacy or data sharing.

The Privacy Foundation said any compromise should be developed in consultation with a wider group including non-commercial stakeholders such as the Privacy Commissioner and non-governmental organisations.

He said the draft pledge was similar to one the Americans put forward by the Future of Privacy Forum along with the software industry six years ago and updated in 2020.

That country’s Ministry of Education, in defense of its contracts, has cited the fact that Microsoft and Google have both signed the US Student Privacy Pledge, which the ministry called “a voluntary industry commitment but legally binding to safeguard student privacy regarding the collection.” maintenance and use of students’ personal information”.

The two tech giants also had ISO certifications for privacy and “rely on these independently audited certifications,” the ministry said.

US sponsors of the pledge said it was a “clear industry commitment” to protect student information.

An education watchdog group, The 74, called it a “self-regulatory effort,” while the Electronic Frontier Foundation said it provided “false assurances due to numerous loopholes.”

Last month, signatory Illuminate Education was withdrawn from the engagement and referred to the US Federal Trade Commission, after its servers were hacked, exposing the personal information of more than a million students, no only their names, but also, in some cases, their migrant status. , attitudes in class and clashes over discipline.

When Illuminate signed up in 2016, it said: “By signing this pledge, we’re committing to continue doing what we’ve been doing since the beginning: promoting that student data is safeguarded and used to foster student and educator success!”

The Privacy Foundation of New Zealand said the question was whether this country would follow the US and run into the same problems after several years “or maybe we could improve it from the start”.



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