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.