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State Nixes Controversial Plan to Share Student Data With inBloom

By Amy Zimmer | April 3, 2014 2:34pm
 State legislation voids contract with student data collection company.
State legislation voids contract with student data collection company.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

MANHATTAN — The state's Education Department is pulling the plug on its controversial plan to upload student data to an online storage system created by the nonprofit inBloom.

Parents across New York voiced concerns over privacy issues, worried that sensitive information — including grades, disciplinary records, economic status, medical and mental health records — could become vulnerable to hackers or private companies. Albany, in turn, passed legislation this week prohibiting the Education Department from giving student data to inBloom or other companies to store and manage.

In response to parents' concerns, the Education Department's commissioner will also appoint a “privacy officer” to write a parent bill of rights.

"As required by statute, we will not store any student data with inBloom," New York State Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn said.

But, he noted, to comply with the federal Race to the Top funding requirements, New York will continue to pursue alternatives to improve the use of student data.

"We respect New York State’s decision to provide additional local control, and for also addressing privacy," Adam Gaber, spokesman for the Atlanta-based inBloom, said in a statement.

He reiterated that the company's data storage service, funded by the Gates Foundation, remained committed to high standards of privacy and security and that it was "pushing forward with our mission."

The renders the contract between inBloom and the state void.

Leonie Haimson, who leads advocacy group Class Size Matters and has been an outspoken critic of inBloom, was pleased that parents' voices were heard, but she said the fight over student privacy issues was far from over.

"InBloom was only the tip of the iceberg," Haimson said. "Many for-profit companies are eager to get their hands on personal student data, which is worth millions of dollars to them."

Even with the latest reforms, the state Education Department — along with the New York City Department of Education — will still be allowed to share data with private companies without parental consent, she said.

Haimson also remained wary about having a privacy officer under the direction state's education department.

"Parents will have to battle to ensure that this privacy officer and his parent bill of rights does not favor the commercial interests of data-mining vendors rather the protection of their children’s privacy and safety," Haimson said.