SafeGov.org and the Ponemon Institute have released the results of a survey of UK schools designed to measure the views of school staff on the rapidly rising use of cloud services in the education sector and the potential risks to student privacy.

The study focused on cloud versions of email and document collaboration tools:

  • a majority of schools expect to migrate to such services in the near future
  • 81% of respondents object strongly to the mining of student emails, web browsing and online behaviour for profit by cloud providers
  • 84% say providers should never profile students
  • 70% say that even the option to turn on ad serving, or the delivery of advertisements to users online, should be completely removed from school-provided cloud services

The findings also show that schools are increasingly looking to move to cloud services because they expect them to bring significant educational and social benefits to students, as well as being cheaper and easier to manage.

SafeGov.org commissioned the Ponemon Institute to conduct the survey of senior staff and IT practitioners in primary and secondary schools and related administrative organisations in the UK.  Respondents were asked to describe their schools’ current and expected use of cloud-based services such as email and document collaboration, and to give their views about student online privacy and cloud provider business models based on data mining for profit.

Key findings of the research include the following:

  • Schools believe cloud services will offer many benefits, helping students to acquire skills needed for employment (78%), thrive in modern society (63%), and obtain better results on national exams (51%)
  • Cloud deployment in UK schools is growing rapidly: 68% of respondents expect to provide cloud email or document creation in the foreseeable future, while 25% already provide such services to their students
  • Schools recognise that cloud services have a dark side: 74% see threats to student privacy as the top risk of cloud, followed by security breaches (70%)
  • But the vast majority reject for-profit data mining of student information: 84% say cloud providers should never profile students for profit, while 70% say ad serving should never be an option •Some schools admit to a conflict of interest regarding student privacy, but want to give parents the tools to protect their children: 47% say they might be tempted to trade student privacy for lower costs, but 44% also say parents should have the right to opt-out of data mining for their children

We’re very impressed and pleased to find that UK schools are rapidly adopting cloud services and see significant educational and social benefits in doing so, as well as cost savings,” said Jeff Gould , President of SafeGov.org. “But our study also shows that UK schools clearly recognise the dark side of cloud computing, especially when cloud providers are allowed to data mine student emails and documents in order to create profiles that can be used for ad serving and other commercial purposes. As the migration to cloud services continues, UK schools, local councils and education authorities as well as the Department for Education at the national level need to develop concrete measures to ensure that strong privacy protections for students and school staff are put in place. Above all, we call on parents to recognise the risks to their children and to take action to ensure that the authorities adopt the proper response

Larry Ponemon , chairman and founder, Ponemon Institute, added:

These results demonstrate significant potential for cloud services in UK schools, with IT administrators contemplating deployments in the immediate to near future, but at the same time overwhelming concerns regarding mining of student data for commercial use. The numbers indicate that these practices must be tackled before the full benefits of cloud computing can be realised

  • Most schools already provide email to staff (85%) and students (59%)
  • 25% already offer students cloud email
  • 61% of schools that don’t yet provide email expect to offer cloud email in the foreseeable future Schools believe cloud tools will help students improve skills, thrive in modern society, obtain better exam results

But schools also see a darkside in Cloud: Data Mining

Schools overwhelmingly recognise that data mining for profit by cloud providers is a threat to student privacy and strongly object to the practice. But some schools admit they are tempted to trade student privacy for lower costs. A solution to this conflict of interest is to let parents opt-out of cloud data mining for their children. – Schools believe cloud email will be easier to manage and cheaper, but not necessarily safer or more secure

  • Schools see threats to student privacy as top risk of cloud (74%), followed by security breaches (70%)
  •  Vast majority of schools (81%) object to cloud providers that data mine student online behavior (i.e. analyse emails or track web browsing) for profit
  • 84% of schools say cloud providers should never profile students for profit, 70% say ads should not be an option
  • Conflict of interest? 47% of schools admit they might trade student privacy for lower costs, but 44% also say parents should have right to opt-out for children

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