GATINEAU – Privacy commissioners from around the world are urging educational authorities and developers of e-learning platforms to better protect the privacy of students, who increasingly use e-learning platforms in the classroom.
Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien and his international counterparts have adopted a resolution on e-learning platforms in Brussels, Belgium at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners.
“E-learning platforms are powerful tools that help teachers teach and students learn, but they come with the inherent risk that personal information could potentially be used inappropriately,” Commissioner Therrien says.
“We are recommending practical ways for everyone who uses e-learning platforms to ensure that personal information is used to teach children and not to market to them or for other commercial purposes.”
The use of e-learning platforms — a package of online services that educators, students and parents can use to support what goes on in the classroom — has opened the door to new, innovative ways of teaching, learning and evaluating students’ progress. But privacy authorities say e-learning platforms may also pose threats to privacy arising from the collection, use, reuse, disclosure and storage of the personal data of these individuals.
The personal information that might be collected while using an e-learning platform could include a student’s name, identification number, location data, biographical, health and contact details, behaviour patterns, disciplinary records, special needs, and other information. When the personal information of young people is misused, it can have significant and long-term social, economic and professional consequences.
In 2017, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada worked alongside the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner’s Office to examine privacy issues related to educational applications. That sweep of popular online applications used in Canadian classrooms found that many service providers were carefully considering the needs of younger users when it comes to privacy, but others were falling short.
The new resolution, which was co-written by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and its provincial counterparts in Alberta and Ontario, along with other international data protection authorities, is aimed at both educational authorities and e-learning platform manufacturers and providers.
It calls on educational authorities, such as education ministries and school boards, to respect the rights of students, parents and educators to protect their personal data and privacy and to guarantee that data collected is used only for education purposes.
The resolution calls upon data protection and privacy commissioners to raise awareness to the privacy risks and responsibilities of using e-learning platforms and to develop guidelines to assist educational authorities and platform providers in meeting their data protection and privacy obligations.
The federal Privacy Commissioner’s office also co-sponsored two other resolutions at the international conference — on ethics and artificial intelligence as well as on digital citizens and consumer protection.
About the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as a guardian of privacy in Canada. The Commissioner enforces two laws for the protection of personal information: the Privacy Act, which applies to the federal public sector; and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, Canada’s federal private sector privacy law.