Student-Targeting Data Harvester inBloom Closes Shop, CEO Blames Parents For Their 'Misdirected Criticism'

from the if-you-can't-beat-'em,-blame-'em dept

It is with no great sadness that I bring you the news that schoolkid data harvester inBloom will be shutting down. Many schools were looking for a better way to quantify their student body, and this solution seemed to be just as much of a judgment error as any.

People may like Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets, but they still value privacy, especially when it comes to their kids. It may seem counterintuitive, but that's the way it is. It's one thing if your kids give this information up voluntarily. It's quite another when it's extracted by their educators and handed off to a third party.

People are a little touchy about data collection nowadays.

They were most certainly touchy about inBloom, a non-profit that was offering to house and manage student data for public school districts across the US by extracting a dizzying array of information - we're talking 400 data fields - from disparate school databases as well as from new, optional, sometimes intrusive categories that inBloom also offered.
inBloom went further than just collecting data sets on grades, attendance, etc. It dug deep (as deep as school administrators would allow it to), looking for info on household members, as well as (in one case) hoovering up students' social security numbers despite its own policies against the collection of this personal data.

It started out big, hauling in contracts with nine states in early 2013. By November, parental backlash against the data mining of their kids resulted in that number shrinking to only three. Less than six months later, inBloom appears to be completely dead.

The CEO of inBloom (Iwan Streichenberger) made the announcement in a longish, mostly self-serving post at inBloom's website, taking care to lay the blame of a bad idea at a bad time (and, apparently, badly implemented) at the feet of the public, which simply "misunderstood" how marvelous inBloom's data slurping was.
Over the last year, the incredibly talented team at inBloom has developed and launched a technical solution that addresses the complex challenges that teachers, educators and parents face when trying to best utilize the student data available to them. That solution can provide a high impact and cost-effective service to every school district across the country, enabling teachers to more easily tailor education to students' individual learning needs. 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.
Shame about that pesky "public," eh? Likes Facebook, hates the idea that their kids being mined for data via compulsory education. But rather than admit the public might have a point, inBloom's CEO thinks people just don't get it.
The use of technology to tailor instruction for individual students is still an emerging concept and inBloom provides a technical solution that has never been seen before. As a result, it has been the subject of mischaracterizations and a lightning rod for misdirected criticism.
Streichenberger will be "winding" the company down over the next several months, presumably from his current position on the cross. Once this is shuttered, he may be able to move on to lucrative positions with other unfairly maligned data harvesters like the NSA. Or maybe he can seek solace within the educational system itself, where he can find colleagues in administrative positions who also suffer greatly from "mischaracterizations" and "misdirected criticism" in their student-related endeavors.

Look, I realize it's tough to see your dream business being forced out of existence, but as irrational as it sounds in this era of oversharing (and over-collection), people still want to believe their kids aren't being used as data conduits by their schools or any other entities beyond. inBloom's CEO believes parents were just misled somehow and have fallen victim to their baseless paranoia. But to be a parent is to be paranoid, even needlessly. Telling them they're wrong won't change it, and telling them they're wrong when your company isn't 100% in the right is only going make those paying attention even more resistant to the next company and their "for the children" data harvesting schemes.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), May 1st, 2014 @ 12:09am

    Is it wrong I am wondering how much he is getting for selling off the data they got now that its going away?

     

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  •  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2014 @ 2:00am

    "inBloom, Inc. cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted."

    That doesn't sound like inBloom is very confident in their security measures protecting student data.

    This picture pretty much sums up how inBloom was going to be used to judge a child's future prospects.

    http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2013/10/06/business/06-INBLOOM-JP2.html

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2014 @ 2:16am

    Over the last year, the incredibly talented team at inBloom has developed and launched a technical solution that addresses the complex challenges that teachers, educators and parents face when trying to best utilize the student data available to them. That solution can provide a high impact and cost-effective service to every school district across the country,

    If teachers and parents do not understand the needs of the children, no amount of data collecting and analysis will fix the problem. That said they may not know how to meet these needs. Therefore what may be much more useful is confidential on line forums where parents and teachers can discuss problems they are having with children, and possible solutions without making their or the children's names public.

     

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      G Thompson (profile), May 1st, 2014 @ 2:48am

      Re:

      That's absolutely pointless..

      How can organisations make any money if all they have is anonimized data that no marketing company would ever pay a load of cash for

      /sarc

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2014 @ 7:42am

      Re:

      "what may be much more useful is confidential on line forums where parents and teachers can discuss problems"

      Yeah, because talking face to face is such an imposition.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2014 @ 8:02am

        Re: Re:

        From one anonymous coward to to another, several reason why forums are useful, people from anywhere in world can share their experiences, they can remain anonymous, and it is more impersonal for discussing sensitive issues; which can make it easier to discuss them

         

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2014 @ 10:35am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "If teachers and parents do not understand the needs of the children ...."


          and refuse to take time out of their busy schedule for a face to face meeting in the hope of learning something ....

           

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    G Thompson (profile), May 1st, 2014 @ 2:50am

    inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole.

    Bwahahahahahahahahahahaha..

    Looks at the worldwide privacy laws and security protocols that would NEVER EVER allow this outside of the USA

    Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahah

     

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  •  
    identicon
    me@me.net, May 1st, 2014 @ 5:09am

    parents defensive about their kids data?

    Say it isn't so. This CEO is a clueless asshole.

     

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    NoTheOtherOne (profile), May 1st, 2014 @ 6:51am

    "...enabling teachers to more easily tailor education to students' individual learning needs."

    Really? Is that what all this was for? For the teachers? I don't believe you!

     

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    madasahatter (profile), May 1st, 2014 @ 7:11am

    Privacy vs Sharing

    Social sites rely on VOLUNTARY sharing by users. There are two points. First one has to voluntarily sign up for Facebook, etc. Second one has to (mostly) voluntarily post something on these sites. The users are largely in control of what is shared on these sites by their actions.

    These morons were taking information that was likely legally consider confidential and misusing it. Also, none of the parents or children voluntarily authorized the sharing of the information.

     

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      James E. Robinson, III, May 1st, 2014 @ 8:43am

      Re: Privacy vs Sharing

      Why do you believe inBloom was misusing confidential data?

      inBloom had a catch-22: they wanted education app creators to build new tools and services on their platform. Vendors wanted to know that they had some potential customers, so inBloom courted states and districts to provide data (just like any other educational app provider - see below) on the hope of these cheaper and possibly better applications.

      inBloom was trying to solve a problem that technologists in education are keenly aware of; integration of new apps into the educational ecosystem is time consuming and expensive. State and local school systems utilize many point solutions. Each and every one of these solutions needs pieces of student personal data to operate. E.g. transportation, grade books, learning management systems, directory/identity management, email, exceptional children, reduced and free lunch, lunch money services, field trip management, etc.

      Each of those systems are getting dumps from student information systems so they can perform their stated functions. Each of these systems require custom integration efforts - time and money.

      As a parent, in how many systems and in how many data centers do you want your child's information? The inBloom model would (in an ideal world) limit this number. Currently, one can easily guarantee a child's information is spread across at least 10 vendors with some of those systems still being hosted by the school, district, or state, but the model is shifting to cloud hosting. (I can name six data centers across the US where my kids data currently reside. If your state doesn't have statutes to keep it in state or country, then it could be across the world. A single vendor will spread the data across data centers for disaster recovery per the educational agencies requirements.)

      inBloom set out to provide a secure data service to provide this information to apps that states and local schools wish to use. Basically, a back-end for an educational app store, if you will. While i don't believe they had the perfect model, it had many improvements over what exists today.

      A child's personal information is covered by more laws than adults, so the various allegations of mining and sharing is, well, silly. It's the same laws that are in place for all those vendors that are receiving copies of your child's data today.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2014 @ 9:18am

        Re: Re: Privacy vs Sharing

        As a parent, in how many systems and in how many data centers do you want your child's information?

        I would want the minimum information for any part of education to be in its own data center, that way the has to work hard to gather it all. Putting all the data in a single database means that it is easy for the government to abuse, and for a single security flaw to make it available to criminals, or for it to be published on the Internet.

         

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        John Fenderson (profile), May 1st, 2014 @ 9:47am

        Re: Re: Privacy vs Sharing

        "As a parent, in how many systems and in how many data centers do you want your child's information?"

        One. Owned, controlled, and maintained by the school district itself. Not in the cloud, not owned by a third party corporation (nonprofit or otherwise), with the data shared with nobody else without my specific informed consent.

        But the essential disconnect I see with Streichenberger's blame-placing is the same one I see with people defending things like NSA data collection: you share this stuff with Google, Facebook, etc., so you should be OK with sharing it with them.

        Parents may or may not be OK with it, but almost nobody is going to be OK with it if it's done without express permission, regardless of who wants the data.

         

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        John Fenderson (profile), May 1st, 2014 @ 10:23am

        Re: Re: Privacy vs Sharing

        Oh, also...

        "A child's personal information is covered by more laws than adults, so the various allegations of mining and sharing is, well, silly."

        While I agree with you that there is no sign that inBloom was specifically abusing any data they collected, I disagree with you that we should find solace in these data protection laws. Experience over the past number of years has shown that these laws are pretty easily worked around, ignored, or simply don't accomplish what they say on the tin.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2014 @ 7:44am

    "Streichenberger will be "winding" the company down over the next several months"

    Like most nefarious endeavors, this one will most likely resurface behind a new facade.

     

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    Just Another Anonymous Troll, May 1st, 2014 @ 7:48am

    How the hell does stealing the social security numbers of children help them learn better?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2014 @ 8:24am

      Re:

      I guess in the long run it teaches them not to be saps.

      I'm reminded of a comic strip where the main character runs an advice column and is asked, "How do I become less gullible?" The character responds, "Well, first I need your credit card number..."

       

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    Coyne Tibbets (profile), May 1st, 2014 @ 7:32pm

    Listen to the euphemisms fly

    "The use of technology to tailor instruction for individual students is still an emerging concept and inBloom provides a technical solution that has never been seen before. As a result, it has been the subject of mischaracterizations and a lightning rod for misdirected criticism."

    use of technology - for only the best of all possible purposes

    tailor instruction - determine admissibility to higher education institutions

    individual students - so each student can grow to his/her potential (within their limitations, of course) by having their lives reduced to simple bureaucratic rules

    emerging concept - grand new profit opportunity from a whole new area of privacy invasion

    technical solution - solves "all your problems" automatically so you no longer have to think about how this all affects students for the rest of their lives

    never been seen before - no one else had the nerve

    subject of mischaracterization - we only meant the best, trust us, so why do they say we are evil?

    lightning rod for misdirected criticism - why are they picking on us?

     

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