Q&A with Bill Fitzgerald: New Senior Privacy Officer at LearnPlatform

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We know privacy matters. For students, teachers, districts, and for the edtech providers who handle their data. That’s why we’re excited to announce the newest member of our growing team — Bill Fitzgerald, Senior Privacy Officer at LearnPlatform.

Bill brings significant knowledge, experience, and thought leadership to LearnPlatform, in the areas of student data privacy and related issues, having previously led work at Common Sense Media/Education, Project Unicorn, and with various school districts and education organizations.

As our new Senior Privacy Officer, Bill’s goal is pretty simple — help LearnPlatform help educators better inform their student data privacy decisions so they can ensure students have access to the safest, most effective technology every day. Get to know Bill a little better in this brief Q&A:

Welcome to the team Bill. Can you tell us a little bit about your career and past experience?

I have had the good fortune to work as a classroom teacher, an open source developer, privacy advocate, and misinformation researcher. These different experiences all helped shape an understanding of how people communicate in different situations, and how we can communicate effectively about complex ideas. Because of these past experiences, my strong preference is to create meaningful partnerships, and to work collaboratively. By working with informed and motivated partners, and by actively listening to a broad range of ideas, we can devise strategies and tools that are both effective and reflective of diverse needs. It can take longer, but that’s the thing about complex problems: solving them well takes time, and there are no shortcuts.

What interested you most about joining LearnPlatform?

LearnPlatform is focused on helping identify effective strategies. I have seen a lot of edtech (and edtech companies in general) with a vague conception of what they are trying to accomplish. In contrast, LearnPlatform has a clear focus, vision and, implementation that helps teachers and students. I’ve always been motivated by doing good work with good people, and LearnPlatform is a great place to do this work.

What are you looking forward to accomplishing as the new Senior Privacy Officer at LearnPlatform?

There is a lot of good work in progress within the education world, and as the Senior Privacy Officer I’m looking forward to creating new working partnerships with organizations already doing the work. I’m also excited about strengthening the existing partnerships LearnPlatform has in place — being able to amplify and showcase existing work that increases awareness of data privacy is a goal we are actively working on.

I’m also very early in the process of bringing together an advisory board [for Check the Privacy, a national collaboration to inform student data privacy decisions]. If you work at a school or district and would like to get involved, please let me know via a direct email (bill.fitzgerald@learnplatform.com) or via this form at CheckThePrivacy.org.

What do you see as the most pressing issue right now around student data privacy?

A longstanding and ongoing issue with data privacy and data security is that people take a “play now, pay later” approach. In practical terms, this translates into not paying attention to privacy and security issues until there is a crisis — and when I say “crisis” I mean a breach or incident that exposes data and causes harm. This approach to privacy creates multiple problems: first, it creates real harms to real people, but it also creates the false impression that privacy is “too hard” to do well and can contribute to a sense of learned helplessness about data privacy and security.

The good news is that more people are realizing that a proactive approach to privacy and security is both the right thing to do, and the easier and more cost-efficient thing to do. Also, as more companies embed secure development practices and privacy by design into their product development and maintenance, we are getting more examples of successful companies building good tools in ethical, responsible ways.

What (if any) are some common misconceptions about data privacy that those in the education community might have?

One of the more common misconceptions I have seen over the years is the notion that privacy is “too complicated” or “too boring” for people to address. While there are technical and legal details that can get complex in the abstract, privacy is ultimately an innately human issue. People understand discrimination, people understand being cheated, people understand how power can be abused. Unfortunately, when our privacy is compromised or undermined, systematic abuses become more likely to occur, and these are human issues that are exacerbated by technological systems.

While it can feel overwhelming to start to reclaim our privacy, there are concrete steps we can take. Moreover, as educators, we have an obligation to both build systems that respect and protect learner privacy, and to model behavior that preserves and expands our privacy in an increasingly networked world.  

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