Delaware has opportunity to protect personal information


These days we are living more of our lives connected to the Internet, with engaging new ways to explore and entertain, communicate and educate. We are also divulging more of our personal information, with our online searches, browsing, purchases, social interactions, location, and other sensitive information collected, analyzed, stored online, and shared with ad networks, data brokers, lead generators, and others.

We need a trusted online environment so that we can take advantage of new online opportunities with confidence — and without sacrificing our privacy and security. This is important for everyone, especially our children, particularly when they are in school.

If you ask your kids or grandkids, you will probably find there’s a website or program that their teacher or school has asked them to use. These apps are for testing, for extra help, for educational games, or for keeping in touch with the teacher or school.

Delaware schools are increasingly integrating computers, laptops, and tablets in the classroom and relying on cloud computing services for a variety of academic and administrative functions. This can be a good thing — as noted in a recent story in this newspaper: “[t]echnology is opening up exciting new ways of teaching.” Through online platforms, mobile applications, digital courseware, and cloud computing, schools are working to enhance and personalize student learning and improve school efficiency.

In the process, private education technology companies are collecting massive amounts of sensitive data about students, including contact information, performance records, online activity, health information, behavior and disciplinary records, eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch, and even cafeteria selections and bus routes.

Some online services have collected and analyzed students’ personal details without clear limits on use of the student data for educational purposes.

Others have failed to adequately secure and encrypt students’ personal information from potential misuse.

We need clear rules of the road to ensure that children’s information isn’t exploited for commercial or nefarious purposes, and stays out of the wrong hands.

Fortunately, Delaware’s Attorney General Matt Denn has worked with bipartisan leaders in the General Assembly to introduce a thoughtful suite of legislation that would help ensure the online privacy of all Delawareans, including critical measures to safeguard the privacy of children and students.

Senate Bill No. 79 will provide strong protection for Delaware schoolchildren, ensuring the privacy and security of their personal information in 21st-century classrooms while enabling innovation and research.

SB 79 would prohibit K-12 websites, online services, and mobile apps from using students’ personal information to target advertising to kids or parents or to create commercial profiles; it would ban the sale of student information and restrict disclosure to third parties. The bill would also require education technology companies to adopt appropriate data security measures.

While creating these much-needed safeguards, the bill is carefully drafted to help foster innovation and research. Data may be used to improve educational products and services without being linked to specific students. Ed tech providers and educators will be able to improve educational products and provide customized digital learning for students while keeping their personal information private. Students would have engaging and trusted online educational spaces, where they can focus on learning.

On a similar note, Senate Bill No. 68 includes special protections for children beyond the schoolhouse, to help foster safe online spaces where they will not be exposed to ads for dangerous, age-inappropriate products like alcohol, tobacco, and guns.

As well, it would protect minors’ personal information, prohibiting online companies from compiling or disclosing this information to market prohibited products. This bill would also provide privacy protections for all Internet users, kids and adults alike, by requiring Internet companies to post privacy policies if they collect personal information and to protect the privacy of readers’ digital book selections.

We are encouraged that Delaware sits poised to pass some of the toughest privacy protections in the nation. Many of the provisions parallel strong privacy laws already on the books in California. National companies must already comply with these requirements on the West Coast. Delaware citizens deserve the same protections on this coast.

As the legislative session winds down, the General Assembly ought to pass these bills expeditiously. Embracing new technology shouldn’t mean compromising our personal information. This landmark online privacy legislation would be a major step in creating a trusted online environment, so students can learn, children can explore, and Delawareans of all ages can enjoy all the innovative online services the 21st-century economy offers.

Editor’s note: James P. Steyer, a faculty member at Stanford University and a resident of the San Francisco Bay area, is founder and CEO of Common Sense Media.

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