Privacy Commissioner warns of online education pitfalls

Saskatchewan’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Ronald J. Kruzeniski sent out a message about the challenges around online learning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the changes being so fast moving for both divisions and educators he warned about internet and software safety.

“Zoom and other video conference platforms have received a lot of publicity. I expect school boards have encouraged teachers to use video conferencing to facilitate continuing education virtually. Articles have been written regarding the privacy risks and I have issued an advisory on virtual meetings. I would ask that school boards and teachers think through the privacy risks for students in using video conferencing or virtual meeting platforms,” Kruzeniski said in the letter.

He recommends that school boards, teachers and students to check the privacy policies, terms of use and privacy settings of every educational app that they considering using.

The letter states that there are many educational offerings but school boards and teachers need to know the privacy protections afforded their students by The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which should cause school boards to monitor closely what products are being used.

“This issue existed before the pandemic, but because of the current situation, the pressure to have online tools has increased,” he said.

Before the pandemic, most local school divisions had a list of authorized or approved apps, and educational products that the school board considered safe to use.

“I encourage school boards to revisit the tools they have approved in the past to double check on privacy protections. Teachers should ensure that they are checking with the division with regard to any guidelines or restrictions on products they might want to use. Teachers need to consider which products are safe for use.”

With parents becoming home teachers the pressure exists to search for educational apps for use. The office has no jurisdiction over parents. He encourages parents to do some research on the privacy impact to their children

“One would not want your student’s profile, pictures, art work, and essays to show up in unexpected places,” he said.

Students also have some responsibility, he reminded them to check in on their privacy and if they have concerns let a parent, teacher of division know that they exist.