Education Technology (EdTech) startup Practera and its collaboration partners have been awarded $1.995 million in government funding as part of a $7.45M project to develop a data privacy protection product for online student data.
Practera’s was one of sixteen projects awarded a total of $30 million by the Commonwealth’s Cooperative Research Centres Projects (CRC-P) Round 7 grants program. Collaboration partners in the project include CSIRO’s Data61, University of South Australia, global education company Navitas, Education Technology peak body EduGrowth, and cyber security solution provider Cybermerc.
Learning analytics and AI research while preserving student privacy
The project will develop a product for education providers to provably preserve the privacy of student data records. This will enable education companies to maximise the value of their student datasets, for example in learning analytics and training of artificial intelligence algorithms. The product will be applied initially to Practera’s experiential learning platform which supports programs such as project programs, internships and skills credentialing.
EduGrowth CEO David Linke said that “Learners globally are demanding more control over the data from their learning. So having Australia at the centre of building this incredibly important tool will be a global advantage for our education providers, the EdTech sector and most importantly the learners themselves.”
Ruth Marshall, Practera’s Director R&D and Data Integrity and leader of the project said “Learning Analytics on student data provides the insights that EdTech companies need to deliver increasingly valuable and personalised insights, evolve their products and compete in the global marketplace. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly important for EdTech systems to provably protect personal and confidential data.”
Global education companies need to meet increasingly complex privacy requirements
The CRC-P grant will pay for research to apply and further enhance privacy-preserving technology and techniques developed by CSIRO’s Data61 for other applications. “We are very interested to apply these techniques in the Education industry” said Professor Dali Kaafar, Group Leader of the Information Security and Privacy Group. “The techniques we have developed at Data61 aim to quantify and measure the “privacy risks” of personal identification or re-identification, and then reduce that risk using mathematically provable risk reduction techniques.”
Professor Kaafar elaborated, “Removing obvious identifiers such as names and addresses is not sufficient to protect users from re-identification, with a linking attack for example”. Linking attacks use data from other sources such as social media to determine the identity of individuals from an anonymized data set. A famous example is New York City taxis who released a “de-identified” set of trip data in 2014 to have it re-identified within the hour using information found on Twitter and online news.
Marshall continued, “Edtech companies with global operations like Practera need to meet increasingly complex privacy requirements around the world. Provable anonymisation of data offers a tremendous business advantage. Our customers like Universities and education providers like Navitas will be increasingly required to prove that their data remains private under regimes like the EU’s GDPR. This is becoming more important as multiple systems are used, some or all operate in the cloud and the provider has multinational operations.” The project will enhance the privacy & security capabilities of Practera in the first instance, but we certainly envisage that we are building product in its own right with application for other EdTechs.”
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