In the wake of a sweeping privacy law in California, Microsoft has become the first major tech firm to voluntarily agree to uphold the guidelines of an industry group dedicated to safeguarding student privacy in the United States. Under the terms of this pledge, Microsoft says it will not sell information about K-12 students or track their activities online.
Microsoft is one of 14 companies that have proactively moved to adopt the student privacy guidelines set done by The Student Privacy Pledge, a consortium thought up by a Washington D.C. think tank called the Future Privacy Forum and the Software & Information Industry Association trade group. Other companies include Amplify, Code.org, DreamBox Learning, Edmodo, Follett, Gaggle, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Knewton, Knovation, Lifetouch, MIND Research Institute, myON, and Think Through Math.
"No one's going to sell your kids' data, nobody's going to track your child around the Internet and no one's going to compile a profile that is used against your child when they apply for a job 20 years later," said Jules Polonetsky, the executive director of the Future Privacy Forum. "We hope this is a useful way for companies that want to be trusted partners in schools to make it clear they are on the side of responsible data use."
Companies that agree to the Pledge will not sell student information, use behaviorally targeted advertising, or change their privacy policies without notice. But they will be required to use student data only for authorized education purposes, enforce strict data retention limits, support parental access to information about their children and provide means to correct errors, and provide comprehensive security.
The Pledge arrives as schools are racing to adopt technology at ever-faster rates, opening students to new learning opportunities but also to privacy invasion and other online issues. It's designed to side-step slow-moving laws like the 40-year-old Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which regulates how educational institutions can disclose student records.
Apple and Google, notably, have declined to participate in the Pledge. But a new law in California may force less proactive technology firms to step up their student privacy efforts as well. California governor Jerry Brown last week signed a student privacy statute into law, prohibiting tech companies from selling information about K-12 students and from using data about students to generate advertising. It is, in other words, the Pledge formalized further as law, one that most likely will be adopted by other states and, eventually, the entire country.
In the meantime, the Pledge seeks to gain the voluntary involvement of technology providers. And it's legally binding in its own way as well: Firms that violate their publicly-stated privacy rules are subject to Federal Trade Commission enforcement.