Senators Markey, Durbin, and Blumenthal Request Student Privacy Guidance from FTC, Education Dept. as Coronavirus Leads to Increased Education Technology Use

Washington (March 24, 2020) — Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Education (ED) requesting the agencies issue joint guidance to education technology (ed tech) companies and parents to protect student privacy during the coronavirus pandemic.  As schools across the county have closed, millions of students are engaging in “distance learning,” using ed tech platforms from their homes. However, experts point to inadequate privacy safeguards in the ed tech industry, and in 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a Public Service Announcement warning that malicious use of data collected by ed tech could result in “social engineering, bullying, tracking, identity theft, or other means for targeting children.”   

 

“Parents across the United States are grappling with the vast complications this pandemic has for their children. Those parents should not have to worry about the misuse or vulnerability of their child’s personal information when they log-on and learn remotely,” write the Senators in their letter to Education Secretary Besty DeVos and FTC Chairman Joseph Simmons. “Issuing guidance is critical to protecting students’ online privacy during the current national emergency.” 

 

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.

 

In their letter, the Senators recommend that guidance to ed tech companies include:

  • Ed tech services that, as a matter of policy or compliance with state or federal law, do not sell or otherwise monetize student data when those services are used in the classroom should apply those same policies when users access their services for at-home learning;
  • Ed tech services should communicate their privacy policies to users conspicuously and in easily accessible fashion;
  • Ed tech services’ notice of their data collection and processing practices must be written in plain language so that  it is easily understood by students, parents, and educators; and
  • Ed tech services should not weaken privacy safeguards when users access their tools at home, rather than in classroom settings;

 

The Senators also recommend that guidance to parents include the following:

  • Encourage parents to be aware of ed tech services that may provide different versions of their service and different educational opportunities depending on whether a user grants permission for data collection and sharing;
  • Encourage parents to take note of whether ed tech services indicate and demonstrate that they employ strong data security practices; and
  • Encourage parents to communicate with their child’s school if they perceive that the ed tech service their child is using appears to pose privacy or security risks.

 

Senators Durbin, Markey, and Blumenthal previously sent letters to top ed tech companies inquiring about data collection practices on American students.

 

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