A personal note on student privacy

by Code.org founder Hadi Partovi

May 15, 2014

Over the past six months, Code.org’s stance on student data and student privacy has come into question by a few bloggers. I’ve been asked to confirm our approach to student data and privacy practices. At Code.org, we have always assigned utmost importance to student safety and student privacy. Nothing has changed about that, and I would like to clarify the measures we’ve always taken to protect student data and privacy.

Code.org’s mission is to allow every student in every school the opportunity to have a high quality computer science education, both in and out of the classroom. The only reason data is collected from students or teachers is to allow us to better succeed at this mission. Evaluating our impact on student academic outcomes through data collection and analysis is the only way we can prove our impact and improve the quality of our programs.

In our work with school districts, we ask schools to provide anonymized student academic data to enable a 3rd party independent evaluation of our programs (a standard education practice), and our independent evaluators are held to the highest level of confidentiality. Our contracts with school districts specifically prohibit us from allowing this student academic data to be used for any other purpose.

In our online tutorials, we collect data to assist us in making our tutorials smarter and more personalized. We use data to see where students get stumped in our puzzles. Data helps us crowdsource the creation of smart-hints to help students with custom answers to their most common problems. Each student’s progress in our online course is shared with that student’s teacher(s), to allow the teacher to help the student learn. Data allows us to scrutinize and improve our programs in schools and ultimately develop better educational programs.

We take industry standard, modern precautions to secure our servers against breaches or data leaks. We have never had any breaches.

More importantly, we design our tutorial platform to maximize student privacy by limiting students’ ability to share information about themselves. We don’t allow students to upload photos, we don’t offer private student-to-student messaging, or even student-to-teacher messaging features like other systems do. Our Hour of Code tutorials don’t require students to provide any personal information, and even our follow-up course allows teachers to sign up their students without providing student email addresses. These precautions limit what data we receive intentionally, specifically to reduce the privacy exposure for students.

To ensure our privacy policy is properly aligned with our established privacy practices, we are revising our privacy statement to be more explicit about these points. Our new policy will be public shortly. We will publish it for a four-week open-comment period before replacing the existing policy.

Lastly, decisions at Code.org are made by me and my management team. None of our donors, celebrity supporters, or fans play an operational role at Code.org, nor have access to our private student data. I am always grateful to you for your amazing support.

Thank you for your support,

Hadi Partovi
Founder and CEO, Code.org

UPDATE: We published privacy policy revisions as laid out in the letter above and received many valuable comments from privacy advocates. We are going through a process of revisions and will publish an updated Code.org privacy policy shortly. We have also published template language for our school district agreements, governing the transfer of anonymous student achievement data to our independent 3rd party evaluator for the purpose of evaluating our work.

UPDATE: We have published our privacy policy based on all the comments and feedback we have received.