Microsoft Pushes Privacy in Education

The company says that it protects kids from risks to their private information while taking a moment to bash Google.

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Data privacy is a touchy topic these days. When it affects kids, Microsoft is making its stance unabashedly clear.

At the Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Barcelona, Spain, March 12, the company signaled that children are off-limits. The software giant claims that 98 percent of schools worldwide use its technology. Comments made at the conference by Anthony Salcito, vice president of worldwide education at Microsoft, indicate that along with students' privacy, the company will work to protect its place in the education technology market.

"Privacy concerns are holding educators back from making the most of modern technology and preparing students to succeed in today's workplace," said Salcito. Arguing that ensuring privacy shouldn't preclude schools from "bringing new and innovative technologies into the classroom," he added that his company is "committed to taking every measure it can to ensure student information remains safe around the world."

Echoing the company's anti-Google "Scroogled" campaign, particularly as it relates to the Bing for Schools ad-free search offering, Salcito added, "We will not, under any circumstance, mine students' data."

Bing for Schools is an ad-free version of Bing. The program provides educators with a search experience that prevents marketers from creating marketing profiles on their students. It also imposes strict results filtering, keeping adult-themed content out of the classroom.

Parents are overwhelmingly concerned about how companies collect information on children and market to them, noted Salcito. In a blog post, he cited a recent survey from the Benenson Strategy Group that was conducted on behalf of Common Sense Media.

Ninety percent of respondents expressed concern about non-educational businesses accessing and using students' personal information. The majority of those polled (77 percent) said it should be made illegal for schools and education technology providers to sell the private information of students to advertisers.

Microsoft is on the same page. "Misleading, exploitative, or aggressive marketing practices simply don't belong in the classroom," stated Salcito. The company also supports the advocacy efforts of groups "that have called for industry agreement to refrain from such uses of student data," namely Common Sense Media and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Office 365, the company's cloud-enabled suite of productivity software, "never utilizes student data for any advertising purposes," he assured, before raising the specter of shady practices over at Google.

"In fact, as customers, regulators and courts begin to scrutinize Google's confusing data privacy commitments, there are serious questions being raised about Google Apps for Education and exactly what Google believes it can do with student data," he said.

Last year, during the RSA Security conference, Google struck back at Microsoft's claims. Google's Keith Enright, the search giant's senior privacy counsel, labeled Microsoft's efforts as "intellectually dishonest."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...