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Friday, December 19, 2014

InBloom testimony fails to assuage privacy concerns

By Maya Rajamani
Posted

The testimony of representatives of the New York State Education Department and inBloom Inc. at a public hearing at City Hall on Friday was intended to reassure parents and educators about a plan to gather student information in a privately administered database.

But instead of providing clarity and transparency, the speakers left many present in the State Assembly hearing room feeling even more skeptical than they were before.

The testimony came after the Education Department chose in February to delay entering into a contract with inBloom until September. The move came in response to privacy concerns voiced by parents around the state.

Under the contract, Atlanta-based inBloom Inc. would store student data including suspension records, grades and personal family information with the goal of allowing parents and educators to access student information in one location. Parents of students in public schools have voiced worries about the contract between the Education Department and inBloom, fearing that the data could be accessible to unintended viewers if it were hacked into.

“We appreciate your willingness to finally testify,” Assemblywoman and Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan said, with emphasis on the word finally.

During the testimony, Peggy Brookins, a member of inBloom’s board, said she hoped to correct what she referred to as “folklore” surrounding the company. 

But Assembly members including Ms. Nolan and Daniel O’Donnell raised concerns about the extent to which inBloom had been transparent, with Ms. Nolan saying the company’s website by no means provided a clear idea of their services and privacy precautions. 

Ms. Nolan and Mr. O’Donnell told representatives that parents were concerned data like suspension records could find their way into the wrong hands, potentially stymieing a student’s prospects of going to college or succeeding academically. 

“There are hundreds of data points in this thing, and some of them are just intrusive,” said Ms. Nolan.

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