Companies that gain access to students’ personal information in schools would be barred from using it for targeted ads under a bill presented this week to Nebraska lawmakers.
State Sen. Adam Morfeld pitched the measure to a legislative committee as a way to protect students’ online privacy in schools.
The proposal would apply to companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft that are used in schools for educational purposes. It also would prevent companies from creating student profiles for non-educational purposes, such as providing credit or insurance. Companies could collect and use data only for educational purposes.
“Students today are very tech savvy, but they are also very vulnerable to targeted advertising,” Morfeld said in testimony to the legislature’s education committee.
A similar bill received unanimous support from the committee last year but died because no senator designated it as a priority. If the measure passes this year, Nebraska would join more than 30 other states that have passed similar laws.
Using student info to sell ads
Personal information could include email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers, disciplinary records, test results, grades, health records, food purchases, political affiliations and other data.
Microsoft lobbyist Anthony Wilson said the bill sets clear ground rules for companies to protect students who increasingly rely on computers, smartphones and other technology to finish schoolwork.
“This imposes the obligation on the companies — not the state, not the schools,” said Wilson, who worked with other companies to draft a bill they all support. “It tells the companies how we’re going to treat (student) data.”
The issue has surfaced in other states as schools increasingly use online learning services and cloud computing. Mississippi’s attorney general filed a lawsuit in January against Google, alleging that the company is violating his state’s consumer protections law by selling ads using data from services it provides to schools. Google has not yet responded to the claim.
Nebraska’s schools rely more than ever on electronic records to store information about students, said Renee Hyde, a representative for the Nebraska Council of School Administrators.
Student information is “not in a shoebox. It’s not in a file cabinet,” said Hyde, the assistant superintendent for the Papillion-La Vista School District. “This operational protection is extremely important for our kids.”
Lawmakers may consider an exemption for Nebraska’s community colleges, which frequently collect data from high school students. Greg Adams, a former state senator and lobbyist for the Nebraska Community College Association, said community colleges use data to recruit new students and promote dual enrollment programs for high school students.
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