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Contrary to Popular Belief, College Students Do Care About Their Data

data privacy

The idea that college students don't care about the privacy of their data may be a myth. These digital natives are increasingly aware of the importance of data privacy, especially when it involves the protection of information about their academic or professional prospects. Students are also concerned about how unchangeable identifiers, such as biometric information, are protected by their schools. And they have more confidence in educational institutions and government than in technology companies for protecting their privacy.

These broad findings were shared in a new report produced by the Future of Privacy Forum for its Student Privacy Compass website, after analyzing publicly available research studies done in the last decade by Gallup Poll, Pew Research Center, Educause, Kaplan and other organizations, on the data privacy preferences, attitudes and behaviors of college and university students.

Institutions should consider using the findings from the report to shape how they incorporate technology into the classroom, according to the FPF. However, the authors emphasized, there's more research to be done in understanding what appropriate data privacy policies should be, and student voices must be part of the ongoing conversation.

The report offered three recommendations for further research and practice:

  • Higher ed should help college students learn how to think critically about data privacy by adding data privacy, ethics and literacy courses to their curricula. The report suggested that "practitioners, scholars and policymakers" could collaborate on designing data ethics course materials.
  • Higher ed and technology companies need to communicate how and why they collect, use and share students' personal information. Without better communication practices, "good privacy policies and practices can still result in general mistrust and apprehension," the report stated. FPF recommended that schools limit the data collected about students and show their transparency about data use by "[convening] town halls, [organizing] student advisory boards, [holding] office hours and [publishing] clear explanations of how and why they collect and use students' personal information."
  • Researchers should do more studies on specific privacy topics, and organizations that have researched student privacy should release more tailored information about the privacy attitudes specifically held by college students. Among the topics worthy of additional study, according to FPF, are how privacy attitudes differ by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, special needs, citizenship status and gender; what types of personal information college students want to protect — and from whom; and what "sources and events" affect the privacy attitudes of students.

"While it's easy to assume those who have grown up in a digital-first world will have lower expectations when it comes to data privacy, our analysis confirms the exact opposite, said Amelia Vance, FPF's vice president of Youth and Education Privacy, in a statement. "Privacy is important to college students, and they expect higher ed institutions and their education technology partners to have strong standards in place to protect their private information."

FPF Policy Counsel Juliana Cotto will present the report's preliminary findings during the Educause Annual Conference on Oct. 27, 2021.

The report, "Higher Education Voices: College Students' Attitudes Toward Data Privacy," is openly available on the FPF website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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