Teachers put their assignments into an on-line data base.
Students access them on their computers, iPads or other devices and then submit their work via the Internet.
What could go wrong?
Plenty. Especially when the company that provides this service goes bankrupt.
And that’s exactly what’s happened with Texas-based educational technology company eBackpack.
All those teacher assignments and student works are still there in computer servers somewhere. And now that eBackpack has filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy, all of it has become assets the company could decide to sell off to pay its debts.
The company explicitly reserves the right to do so according to its own Privacy Statement:
“The information we collect is used to improve the content of our Web pages and the quality of our service, and is not shared with or sold to other organizations for commercial purposes, except to provide products or services you’ve requested, when we have your permission, or under the following circumstances:
Well that’s comforting. I wonder how a company that will no longer exist will have staff to notify former customers about what’s happening to the mountains of data we put in its hands.
Even under the best of circumstances, who will it notify? Teachers? Students? Parents? Or just the administrators or school boards who managed the over all accounts for individual districts?
eBackpack’s Terms of Service Agreement contains several red flags that someone should have noticed before students’ privacy was jeopardized:
“-eBackpack may assign its rights and obligations under these Terms to a third party without your consent.
“-You agree to use the Service at your own risk, without any liability whatsoever to eBackpack.
-1.1. Your use of the Service is at your sole risk. The Service is provided on an “as is,” “as available” and “with all faults” basis. The Service is owned and copyrighted by eBackpack and offered through a subscription, not sold, to you.
-10.1. eBackpack reserves the right at any time and from time to time to modify or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, the Service (or any part thereof) with or without notice.
-By submitting Content to eBackpack, you grant eBackpack a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free right to copy, display, modify, transmit, make derivative works of, and distribute your Content for the purpose of providing or developing the Service.
-14.2. You consent to eBackpack’s use and/or references to your name, directly or indirectly, in eBackpack’s marketing and training materials. You consent to eBackpack’s use of your communication with eBackpack for marketing and training materials. You may not use eBackpack’s name or trademark without eBackpack’s prior written consent.”
It’s not like schools weren’t warned.
Less than a year ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) issued a strong statement cautioning consumers that edtech companies put student data at risk.
The bureau advised parents, teachers and administrators to take several steps to safeguard children’s privacy. The organization also pushed for the federal government to revise privacy laws to better protect kids from this industry.
In addition, commonsense.org – a nonprofit studying education issues – conducted a three-year review of 100 edtech companies. It concluded that 74% of these businesses hold the right to transfer any personal information they collect if the company is acquired, merged, or files for bankruptcy.
The authors wrote that there is “a widespread lack of transparency, as well as inconsistent privacy and security practices” in how student information is collected, used, and disclosed.
Why would any company want such student data?
It helps market products and, itself, can be a very marketable product.
For instance, imagine how much more effective the hiring process would be if businesses had access to applicants school attendance records. Imagine if businesses had an applicant’s entire academic record.
Employers could buy vast amounts of data and use algorithms to sort through it looking for red flags without fully comprehending what was being compiled. Imagine an applicant being turned down for a job because of low middle school attendance but not being able to explain that this was due to a legitimate illness.
There are reasons we protect people’s privacy. You shouldn’t have to explain your score on a 3rd grade spelling test the rest of your life or have the need for special education services become a liability on your credit record.
Yet all of these things are possible when student data is up for grabs as it may be in this instance.
This is personal to me.
My district uses eBackpack.
Yet it was for these exact reasons that I never jumped on the bandwagon with my own students in my classroom.
I experimented somewhat with the platform, myself, to see what it offered and to weigh whether the advantages canceled out the disadvantages.
If I had decided to move forward, I would have asked parent permission first, but in the end, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk – and boy am I glad!
Yet having interacted with the platform at all, I received the following email from the company yesterday:
We regret to inform you that this 2018-2019 school year is the last year eBackpack will be operating. We will not be accepting any renewals going forward and we will not be providing any services past July 31, 2019. All services will be terminated on that date. Please download and save to your own devices any data prior to July 31, 2019. Once the services for eBackpack are turned off, your files and data will no longer be accessible, and we will not have staff available to respond to any customer inquiries. We appreciate your support over the past years and we will truly miss working with you all!
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to send an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Again, we appreciate your time with us and all of your support.
Thank you, eBackpack Team”
I haven’t tried to contact the company, but I’m seeing on Reddit that others have been unable to do so.
“We use eBackpack and we are unable to pay our bill as no one answers their number or responds to emails. A quick Google search shows recent bankruptcy procedure. Anyone know anything? Am I the only one still using them?”
EBACKPACK, LLC did in fact file a chapter 7 bankruptcy case on Feb 8, according to docket information on-line.
Chapter 7 is sometimes called straight bankruptcy or liquidation bankruptcy. In general, the court appoints a trustee to oversee the case, take the company’s assets, sell them and distribute the money to the creditors who file claims. However, the trustee doesn’t take every last bit of company property. Owners are allowed to keep enough “exempt” property to get a “fresh start.”
This is big business. Venture capitalists have invested more than $1.8 billion in the edtech industry in 2015, alone.
At this time, it is still unclear exactly how many students and teachers have been put at risk.
I can’t find information anywhere about how many student or teacher accounts are in jeopardy or how many districts used the platform.
Hopefully this will be a wakeup call that the edtech industry needs to be more closely monitored and regulated.
We cannot continue to put convenience and profit ahead of student and teacher safety.
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