Spanish Region Has Designed Open Source Tools to Protect Student Privacy

Did you know that the Spanish Comunidad Valenciana is the only European region that protects their student’s privacy in public schools through open source tools and platforms? Many other schools in Europe are using big tech mainly from the US – and increasingly from Google, who does not have a good track record on privacy and who is constantly accused of violating European laws.

By Manuela Battaglini Manrique de Lara is a co-founder and CEO Transparent Internet, a Legal, Technical and Ethical AI consultancy company.

Many school children are working with digital tools that are not secure and do not respect privacy. Especially Google is conquering the education sector both with Chrome books and Google Suite for Education. Google promises that they don’t use the data for targeted advertising, but what then do they use the data for then, and why do they need access to children’s data?

Many kids in Denmark have to use Google Chrome and G Suite, but some are also being taught ‘digital selfdefense’ like this school, so they understand how to better protect and take control of their data

According to Martin Shelton, former Google staff, “Documents within your G Suite domain are not end-to-end encrypted, meaning that Google has everything they need to read your data,” he writes, and continues “Data at rest on Google’s servers is stored in an encrypted format, so that it can’t be read unless someone with the necessary access needs to unscramble it.”

Fortunately, the Norwegian Data Agency is investigating whether it is legal to use Google Suite at schools at all. And the authorities in New Mexico is suing Google for depriving kids of their privacy, stating;

Google has deliberately deceived parents and teachers about Google’s commitment for children’s privacy… and has used Google Education to spy on New Mexico Children and their families by collecting troves of their personal information, including their physical locations, websites they visit, every search term, videos they want, personal contact lists, voice recordings, saved passwords and other behavioral information. 

Quote from the state of New Mexico’s lawsuit.

While we are waiting for the Norwegian decision, we should find  alternatives to the current data monsters. And that can be found in Comunidad Valenciana. The regional government there is protecting their children, so they will not suffer the consequences of being profiled by an unethical tech giant.

They have invested huge efforts in writing instructions and resolutions that prevent, under any circumstance, that the children’s data are in the cloud, in servers of technological giants, who don’t care children privacy. According to Martin Shelton the solution is to chose either end-to-end encrypted alternative to Google, local storage or stay away from computers completely. Option number two is the one given by the Comunidad Valenciana.

Thanks to Tàfol Nebot’s and the ICT Coordination Team who have helped me, here are some of the tools used to build the education system in Comunidad Valenciana:

Lliurex: operating system based on GNU / Linux that has been installed in the equipment of the centers since 2005, approximately. The latest version is based on a derivative of UBUNTU and there are thousands of computers with this system already installed. It is the older project and is very popular among computer science teachers. It has received honorable mention in the Open Awards of Open Expo Europe.

Aules: Virtual Learning Environment based on Moodle, free software and the main platform used worldwide adapted to the needs of the Valencian teachers (it connects with the Generalitat’s (Regional Valencian government) own management system and teachers do not have to worry about data protection law, since data are managed from the Conselleria itself). Currently, available to any teacher and student of non-university education (as long as their data is in the management platform of the Generalitat (ITACA).

PortalEdu: Platform for centers to manage their own website. It is based on WordPress and is currently in the pilot phase. Its expansion is planned to be used by all centers.

 Mestre a Casa: platform where teachers can host their educational blog. It is based on Liferay although it is in the migration phase towards the new PortalEDU platform.

 LimeSurvey: free questionnaire management software installed on some servers to collect information from the centers. It was used in the survey of teachers for the future Valencian education law, it is used to collect pre-enrollment in Official Language Schools. It is pending to make it available to teachers so they do not have to use Google Forms.

Gestió d’Incidències: Platform for the generation of tickets that is used for teachers and centers to request technical help on any computer or platform issue. It is based on the free software Otrs.

Tao Testing: Platform used in diagnostic tests, it is the same one used in PISA tests.

Email: a Horde-based Webmail platform is used for the email accounts of all public servants in Comunidad Valenciana.

Other tools are also used but they are not based on free software, such as ITACA management platforms, teaching module and family web, but it has to be improved.

Other tools that teachers demand are file cloud services. From SICE it has been thought of implementing the service based on Nextcloud, another free software tool, but at this moment the decision to launch the project has not yet been made.

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