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Machine Learning

How to Keep Your Personal Data a Little More Private While Pursuing Higher Education

Tips for students, gleaned from our investigation into data collection by colleges

Illustration depicting an aerial view of abstract yellow figures walking, some of whom are carrying backpacks
Gabriel Hongsdusit

As coursework has moved online, college students face pervasive tracking and are banding together to protect their privacy. Below are steps individual students can take to safeguard their personal information. (For any professors reading this: you can either do—or talk to your students about—most of these things, too.)

1. Use a privacy-friendly browser like Firefox or Brave and set it to “private” or “incognito” mode to avoid some online tracking. 

2. Tighten up your privacy settings in your college’s learning management system. Here are links for how to do that in Canvas and Blackboard.

3. Use a VPN. A virtual private network can obscure your location and, on an open wifi network, esure your data is still encrypted when it leaves your computer. 

4. Get informed. Read tech companies’ privacy policies to find out what personal data they collect about you and how it is used, stored, shared and sold. They can be a slog so here’s how to find the important parts quickly.

5. Minimize your exposure. The less you do in a technology platform or online, the less there is to track. Be aware, though, that some colleges flag students as high risk for failing a course if they don’t sign into their learning management system regularly.

6. Talk to your professors. If you’re uncomfortable with data collection from digital textbook platforms, ask if paper textbooks are an option. If you’re uncomfortable with e-proctoring software, ask if you can take exams in person. 

7. Talk to your college’s chief privacy officer. This role is still relatively rare, but if your college has someone, they are likely to be privacy advocates and can be an ally in conversations with faculty or ed tech companies. Outside of this role, campus IT administrators may be willing to help. 

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