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[Susan notes: A strong letter correcting the implications of the article that 'public misunderstanding' was at the core of the inBloom problem.]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

The recent collapse of inBloom, the student data company, is a powerful reminder that in the era of Big Data, privacy still matters ( A Data Collector Drops Out, Technophoria, April 27). As we see it, the problem was not misunderstanding by the public, but a lack of meaningful privacy protections.

The Department of Education also bears some responsibility for inBloom's demise. Instead of defending important privacy laws that help protect student data, the department chose to loosen the rules so that private vendors could pull sensitive data out of local schools. Schools were also encouraged to collect far more information than they had in the past. Parents did not know what information was being collected, who would have access to it or what impact it might have on their children’s future. Not surprisingly, many objected.

The Education Department could help restore confidence in these data-intensive programs by strengthening privacy rules and establishing a Student Privacy Bill of Rights. Students should know what information about them is being collected and how it is being used. And schools should be more cautious about turning over their students data to others.

Mr. Rotenberg is president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Ms. Barnes is director of EPIC’s Student Privacy Project.

Marc Rotenberg and Khaliah Barnes

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