What Happens to Student Data Privacy When Chinese Firms Acquire U.S. Edtech Companies?
Between the creation of a social rating system and street cameras with facial recognition capabilities, technology reports coming out of China have raised serious concerns for privacy advocates. These concerns are only heightened as Chinese investors turn their attention to the United States education technology space acquiring companies with millions of public school users.
A particularly notable deal this year centers on Edmodo, a cross between a social networking platform and a learning management system for schools that boasts having upwards of 90 million users. Net Dragon, a Chinese gaming company that is building a significant education division, bought Edmodo for a combination of cash and equity valued at $137.5 million earlier this month.
Edmodo began shifting to an advertising model last year, after years of struggling to generate revenue. This has left critics wondering why the Chinese firm chose to acquire Edmodo at such a price, some have gone as far as to call the move a data grab.
as data becomes a tool that governments such as Russia and China could use to influence voting systems or induce citizens into espionage, more legislators are turning their attention to the acquisitions of early-stage technology startups.
NetDragon officials, however, say they have no interest in these types of activities. Their main goal in acquiring United States edtech companies lies in building profitability, says Pep So, NetDragon’s Director of Corporate Development.
In 2015, the firm acquired the education technology platform, Promethean, a company that creates interactive displays for schools. NetDragon executives say that the Edmodo acquisition rounds out their education product portfolio—meaning the company will have tools for supporting multiple aspects of learning including; preparation, instructional delivery, homework, assignment grading, communication with parents students and teachers and a content marketplace.
NetDragon’s monetization plan for Edmodo focuses on building out content that gets sold via its platform. Similar to tools like TeachersPayTeachers, So hopes to see users putting up content on the platform’s marketplace, some free and others for a fee (including some virtual reality content), so that the community can buy, sell and review available educational tools.
As far as data privacy is concerned, So notes that NetDragon is still learning what it can and cannot do. He noted that the company will comply with Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a federal regulation created in order to protect the privacy of children online, but says that the rules and regulations surrounding the law are confusing for all actors involved.
Historically, Chinese companies have faced trust and branding issues when moving into the United States market, and the reverse is also true for U.S. companies seeking to expand overseas. Companies have also struggled to learn the rules, regulations and operational procedures in place in other countries.
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Center for Digital Education (CDE)
real-time impact on curriculum structure, instruction delivery and student learning, permitting change and improvement. It can also provide insight into important trends that affect present and future resource needs.
Big Data: Traditionally described as high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information.
Learning or Data Analytics: The measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs.
Educational Data Mining: The techniques, tools and research designed for automatically extracting meaning from large repositories of data generated by or related to people’s learning activities in educational settings.
Predictive Analytics: Algorithms that help analysts predict behavior or events based on data.
Predictive Modeling: The process of creating, testing and validating a model to best predict the probability of an outcome.
Data analytics, or the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data, is driving decisionmaking in many institutions. However, because of the unique nature of each district’s or college’s data needs, many are building their own solutions.
For example, in 2014 the nonprofit company inBloom, Inc., backed by $100 million from the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, closed its doors amid controversy regarding its plan to store, clean and aggregate a range of student information for states and districts and then make the data available to district-approved third parties to develop tools and dashboards so the data could be used by classroom educators.22
Tips for Student Data Privacy
Know the Laws and Regulations
There are many regulations on the books intended to protect student privacy and safety: the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
— as well as state, district and community laws. Because technology changes so rapidly, it is unlikely laws and regulations will keep pace with new data protection needs. Establish a committee to ascertain your institution’s level of understanding of and compliance with these laws, along with additional safeguard measures.
Make a Checklist Your institution’s privacy policies should cover security, user safety, communications, social media, access, identification rules, and intrusion detection and prevention.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Students, staff, faculty and parents all need to know their rights and responsibilities regarding data privacy. Convey your technology plans, policies and requirements and then assess and re-communicate those throughout each year.
“Anything-as-a-Service” or “X-as-a-Service” solutions can help K-12 and higher education institutions cope with big data by offering storage, analytics capabilities and more. These include:
• Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): Providers offer cloud-based storage, similar to a campus storage area network (SAN)
• Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): Opens up application platforms — as opposed to the applications themselves — so others can build their own applications
using underlying operating systems, data models and databases; pre-built application components and interfaces
• Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): The hosting of applications in the cloud
• Big-Data-as-a-Service (BDaaS): Mix all the above together, upscale the amount of data involved by an enormous amount and you’ve got BDaaS
Use accurate data correctly
Define goals and develop metrics
Eliminate silos, integrate data
Remember, intelligence is the goal
Maintain a robust, supportive enterprise infrastructure.
Prioritize student privacy
Develop bullet-proof data governance guidelines
Create a culture of collaboration and sharing, not compliance.
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