March 27, 2014

Students Oppose State Partnership With Data Collector

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The Cornell University College Republicans and the Cornell Democrats have come together to oppose New York State’s adoption and funding of inBloom, a non-profit that seeks to consolidate student information into a single database.

“This is a strong show of bipartisanship and makes it explicit that we, as students, believe in standing up for our rights to data privacy and nondiscrimination,” said Michael Alter ’16, the organizer of Cornell campaign against inBloom.

Those behind inBloom plan to collect and store up to 400 data fields of information on students in New York State schools, according to The New York Times. These data fields include K-12 students’ grades, attendance records, disciplinary information and family relationships.“inBloom has not given assurances that if data breaches ever did occur that they would be required to notify those whose privacy was violated.” — Michael Alter ’16

Cornell students from both sides of the political spectrum have criticized the organization, alleging that it intrudes on student data privacy rights and collects information that may be irrelevant to improving students’ quality of education.

“Why are certain data points collected… and what purpose do they serve in creating these individualized educational experiences?” said Kyle Ezzedine ’14, chair of the Cornell Republicans. “Would students who perform poorly in primary school have individualized educations that ‘trap’ them in a cycle where they are effectively taught less because of their absences or poor work?”

Students have also raised concerns about whether the data collected would be carefully safeguarded.

“[inBloom is] shown to [host] unsecured data for students and have many repeated issues. You can see with the fact that so many states have dropped the program that there are clear problems,” said Maxwell Schechter ’14, president of the Cornell Democrats.

Of the nine states that initially partnered with inBloom, New York is now the only state that is actively part of the program, according to Alter. The eight other states pulled out of the program due to privacy concerns — in Louisiana, the state removed all student data from the cloud when it was discovered that students’ Social Security numbers were uploaded into the system, according to The New York Times.

“[InBloom’s] security guarantees were not thorough enough,” Alter said. “inBloom has not given assurances that if data breaches ever did occur that they would be required to notify those whose privacy was violated.”

The Cornell Republicans’ and Cornell Democrats’ joint opposition to the program mirrors bipartisan opposition in the New York State legislature, where policy makers on both sides of the aisle have criticized the system and introduced bills to protect student data, Alter said.

Though several big organizations support inBloom — including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rupert Mudoch’s News Corp and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, according to Reuters — parents in New York State have raised a campaign against the organization, a campaign now also supported by Cornell students.

“Students, whether at a university like this one or at other schools across the state, are very passionate about their data security and privacy,” Alter said.