By James P. Steyer

Schools are becoming more digital by the day, incorporating new software and online learning tools that are transforming our classrooms in exciting ways. Amid these technological changes and advances, Common Sense Media and others have worked to ensure a trusted online environment in our classrooms so students can learn and thrive rather than be exploited and exposed to marketing efforts from technology vendors.

We believe we can embrace innovation in the classroom and maintain core privacy and data security protections for students and their families, and lawmakers in Oregon and other states across the nation have joined in that effort. But as the movement to protect the private and personal information of schoolchildren and their families gains momentum, some sectors of the tech industry are stepping up their efforts to block or weaken laws aimed at keeping our kids safe.

The latest example of this national assault on students’ privacy can be seen in Oregon, where tech-industry lobbyists have pushed hard for amendments that water down the Oregon Student Information Protection Act. As amended by the state Senate, the measure contains loopholes that would limit coverage for Oregon students and families and allow and invite companies to misuse and share students’ private and personal information. For example, the amended bill would allow third-party service providers to share students’ personal information without any privacy requirements for recipients of that information. This means that once student data is disclosed it can be used and shared for any reason with no restrictions at all.

The original Oregon bill was designed to prohibit these activities, which is why Common Sense and other children’s advocates initially supported it. The amendments, however, put the economic interests of private industry ahead of what’s best for kids.

These same industry interests now aim to weaken the bill even further. For example, lobbyists appear to be seeking additional amendments that would permit K-12 ed tech companies to use or share students’ personal information for commercial, nonschool purposes — if parents “consent.” That’s a problem, because typically schools and teachers choose the websites and apps that students and parents must use. Parents have no real choice but to “consent” when they “click through” the terms of service or check the box “agreeing” to the privacy policy. Parents may assume that the school already has fully vetted the service and its privacy and security practices, or feel “forced” to consent to anything so their children can participate and won’t be left out. Meanwhile, schools may not always have the resources or savvy to carefully review the products, or may agree to certain practices to obtain free or discounted or highly desired products.

When it comes to online school services, we need clear rules that bar inappropriate commercial, noneducational uses of student data outright, without creating cracks and loopholes.

Fortunately, lawmakers in Oregon can still stand up to the industry pressure, which is backed by a multistate, multimillion dollar lobbying and propaganda campaign with some of the country’s richest companies and big-time political donors.

Oregon kids deserve leaders who will continue to fight for their best interests. State leaders should be applauded for taking a stand to protect kids from these predatory practices. The original OSIPA was a model to be proud of, and for other states to follow. There’s still time to strike out these incendiary industry-backed amendments, and to fight vigorously against any additional industry-driven proposals, all of which chip away at much-needed protections for our kids.

— James P. Steyer is founder and CEO of Common Sense Media.

10028937