Facebook’s education initiative instigates controversy regarding privacy

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Hoping to affect the future of education in the same manner it shaped social networking and communication, Facebook decided to implement an initiative to put learning in the hands of students. After the Silicon Valley company announced on Sept. 3 that it was going to collaborate with a local charter school network, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, decided to champion this initiative and delegated eight Facebook employees to develop the project. While Facebook’s intentions rooted in bettering the impacts of education in America, the project has faced mixed reactions.

The platform is separate from Facebook as a social networking site and is now being used by nine Summit schools—public schools that are specifically meant to prepare a diverse student body for a four-year university—and about 20 other schools. According to Diane Tavenner, Summit Public School’s chief executive, Facebook plans to share the platform with as many people as possible, including students and teachers from other charters and public school districts. To make the program easily accessible for everyone, the software will be provided for free.

“Even though Facebook has the best intentions, I have to admit that the education initiative was really unexpected,” said Shota Ono (12), active Facebook user. “I’m not sure if this is the best decision for Facebook because the company is already so big in the field of social networking, which [normally doesn’t go hand in hand with the field of education]. I think currently there is a limit to the degree of success of this project due to [a general lack of awareness]. If the project is to spread to many different schools, it is going to generate much more impact.”

As a way of ensuring safety and privacy, Facebook and Summit asserted that they have adhered to the student privacy practices suggested by the federal government. In other words, all student data is to remain confidential and Facebook cannot use the data for non-educational purposes. However, critics expressed their doubts regarding these commitments as Facebook has had past cases of violating privacy.

“Privacy issues have always been a problem on any type of media, as people from all over the world are gradually starting to have more access to people’s privacy,” Karen Joo (10) said. “Ever since I made Facebook, my friends and family always warned me to think about the consequences of what I post because it could become public very rapidly. Although this education initiative in public schools may benefit a select number of students, I don’t think it will have as much of an impact as its potential harm on people’s right to privacy.”

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