Technology and Privacy


Continuing somewhat on the theme of my earlier post about FaceApp, here’s a story that i happened to see this week which gave me quite a jolt. i’m really surprised that it hasn’t been more widely reported.

Ars Technica – Office 365 Declared Illegal in German Schools Due to Privacy Risks

There is considerable irony in the timing of this news, coming around the same time as everyone (especially in the US) gets themselves in a big flap about data privacy with a Russian based face morphing software. The article also makes clear that whilst Office 365 is being singled out, there are also grave concerns about Google and Apple as well.

Over the last 10-15 years these three companies have invested enormously to get their feet under the table in schools right across the world.  making their software (and sometimes hardware) commonplace in schools is seen as a great Trojan horse to ensure that the learners will remain wedded to that technology in the future as adults, both in their homes and their places of work. And, by and large, its been successful.  I had personal experiences in India of attempting to limit school costs for Microsoft licences for operating systems and office suites by launching Ubuntu Open Source labs. However, the projects met massive resistance from teachers and worries from parents and students that this would be out of alignment with what the children needed to learn for the exams (what other companies in the world have been able to make school exams dependent on their products??)

Schools, both public and private, need to have very clear goals and ideas about how they’re using IT and how they’re ensuring data privacy and protection. The shift to cloud computing has been enormously tempting, simply from a cost saving point of view. I well recall the amount of money we needed to set aside to pay for school servers when our Group was expanding in Delhi. However, without this option, data protection and backup was haphazard, separated on every separate individual laptop and desktop across the schools. Many logistical headaches were created by the fact that localised hacking could still be a risk, but also those inevitable cases where students claimed weeks of work had been maliciously or inadvertently deleted from a computer lab computer. No data trails and no cloud meant very little evidence.

Issues of cloud computing, especially when the data moves easily and invisibly across national borders will, inevitably, cause disquiet and concern. What’s happened in Germany may seem extreme. However, if the net result is more introspection, transparency and clarity about what’s needed to ensure data privacy and protection for our children, then it may have a positive outcome.


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