What are the ethical implications of Big Data in education?

Do internet companies know more about our students than we (or they) do?
Do internet companies know more about our students than we (or they) do?

I’ve just watched this excellent keynote speech by Aral Balkan at the ind.ie Summit. In summary, he describes how a certain social network and a certain search engine harvest personal information and put it to use.

Given that we increasingly provide technology to our students, and in many cases give them their first login details using at least one of the above companies, are we mindful of how (in the long term) their search data, content creation, reading habits, etc, may be used in the future?

If we knew how much we were giving away to advertisers, would we willingly sign up? More crucially, would we willingly sign up our students? Yes, we tick boxes; we “agree” all the time – but do we do so with full knowledge of how our personal information may be fed back to us further along the line.

I’m not suggesting that such companies may do something nefarious with our data, but I am worried that, as consumers, we are blindly accepting a single business model without full knowledge of the implications.

As Aral Balkan says in his speech, Big Data (where we exchange free services such as email and social networking for our personal information) need not be the only business model. Feeding our students to advertisers may not be the most ethical way to acquire technology services in our schools.

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