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USA – Warning of leaking student data to Austria


The warning about the flow of student data to the United States comes from the data protection NGO “epicenter.works”.
© APA / HANS PUNZ (Icon)

The data protection NGO “epicenter.works” has drawn attention to the United States with caution about the flow of student data.

“Epicenter.works” warns that students’ data will be leaked to the United States through large-scale products and services from “Big Tech” providers Microsoft and Google or the US cloud services. According to a series of articles, the “biggest violation of the ban” is the mandatory use of Microsoft or Google operating systems on devices available to students at low cost. Teachers can also access them.

Decision on software applications in schools or teachers

This has been rejected by the Ministry of Education. Decisions about the use of software applications in the classroom are made by school locations or teachers. It said in a statement that neither the ministry nor the curriculum would make any recommendations or make any specifications. Teachers will not be able to access devices outside the classroom.

Answer to the compulsory subject of “Basic Digital Education”

In principle, the NGO welcomes the latest steps taken in the field of education, such as the transformation of the compulsory subject of “Basic Digital Education” into a compulsory subject and the provision of free digital devices to students and teachers from the coming academic year. . However, in doing so, mistakes were made regarding data security.

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This includes the company, for example, the increasing use of so-called “privacy” software. Companies like Microsoft will explicitly agree to hand over some data to the US government. In addition, US Cloud Act protects access to data from US officials, even if it is stored on servers abroad. It affects all companies worldwide with at least one branch in the United States. In addition to being sent to confidential services, data can also be used for advertising purposes.

Student tests were conducted at the National Data Center

The ministry points out that US-based cloud service providers are only used in IT services for IT-backed teaching, such as video conferencing. Important data in the context of school administration and student testing are conducted exclusively at national data centers.

This does not convince the voluntary organization: it is not possible to attempt to define areas of education and administration because communication in schools is driven by the services of large providers. In practice, “Microsoft and Google have long been used for data transfer in content such as grades, behavior and students’ family problems”.

NGO: More or less compulsory use of Microsoft for schools

At the same time, schools are more or less being forced to use Microsoft products. “In practice, running a school without Microsoft is not possible in Austrian schools,” epicenter.works insists. When editing Central Mathura, teachers should enter the number of points and grades using the Microsoft Excel program.

The NGO also sees the difficulty in accessing teachers with digital end devices provided from this academic year. These can and should be used individually by students. However, the possibility of remote access is already installed on the devices. In addition to installing device management software, ICT regulation allows the possibility of “classroom management software” on student devices, data protectors complain. Teachers can use this to lock software or view students’ screens. Until now, this application has only been used on school equipment, for example in the computer room, and it is illegal to use it on students’ personal devices.

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The Ministry of Education refers to the preferences of parents

The ministry refers to parental preferences on the one hand and restrictions on access to subjects on the other. Mobile device management, used by the school for digital end devices, enables devices to operate securely on the school network and the Internet, “being able to meet the relevant requirements of legal guardians”. “For teachers, remote access to private student devices or intelligence outside of the classroom is not allowed, so it is not possible.”

According to “epcienter.works”, fixing on products like Microsoft Teams or Google Glassroom means that there is not enough money for open source sites and software offers. These will be hosted in Austria and will have further enhanced benefit. The Ministry of Education refers to schools: “It is explicitly recommended to work with free software as part of the course, regardless of the operating system installed”. This also applies to the use of open source learning sites.