Privacy Concerns Force InBloom, A Data Repository For Schools, To Shut Down

A volatile mix of data privacy concerns and education politics spelled doom for the young nonprofit.

InBloom, a repository for student data that launched with $100 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, is bowing to relentless opposition from parent activists and waving the white flag of surrender, just over a year since its splashy SXSWedu debut.

CEO Iwan Streichenberger announced the decision to shut down the organization in a letter posted to the inBloom website. "It is a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse, even though inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole," he wrote.

Last year nine states--collectively home to more than 11 million students--signed on to use inBloom, which offered schools and districts a cloud-based system for storing student data. For many schools, inBloom represented a significant improvement over the proliferating data systems, some new and some old, that teachers and administrators were attempting to manage and stitch together in manual ways.

That early success evaporated over the last several months as elected officials and school activists found inBloom to be a remarkably vulnerable target for growing parent outcry over the privacy and use of student data. "Parents beware!" proclaimed a flyer distributed by Class Size Matters, an advocacy group. Diane Ravitch, the education historian who has become known for her attacks on education reform leaders with deep-pocketed private backers, took a leap of logic and raised the possibility that inBloom was engaged in identify theft.

As of January, six states had ended their partnerships; when New York enacted legislation that effectively shut inBloom out of the market earlier this month, the nonprofit's fate was all but sealed.

For its part, inBloom has maintained that its privacy policies and technology architecture are not substantively different from those of other education companies dealing with student data. "I wish we could have made clear that this is about school districts solving real problems with teachers, students and families," Sharren Bates, inBloom chief product officer, told EdSurge in February. Bates said that inBloom was fully compliant with federal regulations around student privacy, and any disclosures of student information to third-party vendors would be the responsibility of district and school leaders. "We don’t do any of that," she said. "That is not in our mission, that’s not what we do."

[Image: Flickr user csessums]

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