White House endorses student privacy pledge in call for comprehensive privacy reform

Today, I had the privilege of listening to the president’s speech at the Federal Trade Commission on privacy protections for consumers. While the president touched on many important issues during this speech, he specifically discussed how these protections extend to K-12 students, including the expanded role and benefits of technology in the classroom and the accompanying need for greater privacy protections for student data. Currently, federal law provides inadequate protection for student data, particularly when collected or stored by third parties, leaving such data vulnerable to misuse and exploitation. Those of us who work with educators to integrate technology in classrooms across the country have a responsibility to hold ourselves to higher standards in protecting student data.

During his speech, President Obama endorsed the “K-12 School Service Provider Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy,” a framework created by the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIAA) that would establish minimum standards for the maintenance, collection and use of student data. This past October, Microsoft became one of the first companies to sign the pledge. Our company has long been committed to bringing the benefits of technology and personalized learning to schools while protecting the privacy and security of our customers’ information, particularly when they are students.  Signing the pledge reaffirmed our commitment to parents, students, and educators. We hope the president’s positive reference to the pledge helps demonstrate the need for industry to better address student data privacy issues.

Before people will trust you with their children’s information, they need to trust you to do the right thing.  That’s why we build privacy features into our educational products and services from the start. And it is why we made a public commitment, in signing the pledge, to be transparent about the data we collect and how it is used. Our goal is to help students realize the promise of personalized learning that technology offers, while giving students, and their parents and teachers, the peace of mind that embracing technology in the classroom will not jeopardize student privacy.

As the president described in his speech, one reason the pledge is so important is the lack of comprehensive student privacy protection provided under current federal and state laws.  Current laws have not kept pace with emerging technology in learning. That is one of the reasons that U.S. Representatives Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and Luke Messer (R-Indiana) convened a group of education and technology companies this summer and urged them to come together to create the pledge. While the pledge is a good starting point for the discussion, we support the president’s call today for expanded student privacy protections under federal laws and we believe it is time for Congress to consider a comprehensive federal privacy bill to address concerns held by a majority of Americans over how their information is collected and used.

We hope the president’s remarks today will help build further momentum in providing robust privacy protections for student data. We look forward to working with the White House, Representatives Polis and Messer, as well as FPF, SIIA and other signatory companies to persuade all major education technology providers to take the pledge. Participants in the educational technology industry have a responsibility to students, parents, and educators to publicly commit to protect and safeguard student data.

In today’s announcement, the president renewed the White House’s effort on consumer privacy.  We support the White House’s Privacy Bill of Rights, have long called for a law to protect consumer privacy, and believe it is time for Congress to consider a comprehensive federal privacy bill to address concerns held by a majority of Americans over how their information is collected and used.