school privacy and “cloud computing”

I’m noticing a growing trend in international schools to shift as much of the institution’s computing as possible to 3rd-party servers. The most popular seems to be Google servers – for example, GMail and Google Docs. My school director forwarded yet another instance of a school in South America doing this and below is my response:

Using a 3rd-party’s online services to do your computing is often referred to as Cloud Computing.

What is often not considered is that when an organization or individual uses such services, the user’s data goes into the hands of the party providing the service. This means that privacy is forfeited in exchange for the convenience of the service. In some cases this may not be a problem at all (e.g. a blog, microblog, or bookmarks are often a public venture and not a matter of privacy) but in other cases it can be irresponsible. What a school needs to decide is what information they consider private and what information is OK for outsiders to have a copy of.

I would always suggest that staff email be kept as local as possible. I would also suggest that most documents be kept as local as possible. And in regard to online classwork and assessments, that too I would suggest a school keep as local as possible. I don’t see “FREE” and the convenience of these services as incentive enough to put copies of our staff email, school documents, and student work in the hands of a 3rd party. Frankly, I think staff/student email, documents, grades/transcripts, and class work are generally a private matter and schools using Cloud Computing to do such work should reconsider that choice.

Any thoughts?


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3 Responses to “school privacy and “cloud computing””

  1. Eric Groot Says:

    This privacy and “who owns the data” concern is what cloud service providers have to sort out in their offerings more clearly and open indeed. They should be transparant and auditable in their services.

  2. aNDy Says:

    The privacy issue is never an easy problem to solve. the moment an email leaves your desktop or a document is sahered with another person, the privacy of the information invcuded in either is compromised. You have no more control over who gets access to what. The whole issue is reduced to an issue of trust. There are rules and regulations controlling this, there are even laws that incriminates the breach of a confidentiality agreement, but this doesn’t eliminate the risk. Not even when the school is running their own e-mail or file server. How much do you trust the administrators of your servers? what happens when the administrators change?

    Free and Freedom are often mutually exlusive. Freedom is very rarely Gratuitous. It always comes at a price.

    To get back to Gnuosphere’s specific issue, I see that the only “public” documents that can and should be shared openly are students and staff portfolios and nothing else. Lesson plans, syllabi, smaple tests etc… can be part of the teachers portfolios. Everything else should be the property of the individual(s) concerned. Class assignemnts, papers and other student artifacts can be shared in student portfolios at the sole discression of the student.

    I would like to raise another concern here regarding Plagiarism prevention using online tools such as Turnitin, which places the submitted student work in a databse accessible to subscribers to the service. Does plagiarism prevention or detection justifies this breach?

  3. Peter Says:

    @aNDy I’ve never used Turnitin though I’ve worked at schools that subscribe. When I suspect copy/paste plagiarism I just do a phrase search and I typically come up with results that way. Generally, I don’t think investigating plagiarism justifies the compromising of privacy.

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