Is N2H2 Selling Out Students' Online Information
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Holmes Report

Is N2H2 Selling Out Students' Online Information

Prior to establishing a data sharing partnership with Roper Starch, N2H2 published and distributed a white paper detailing the merits of gathering data on where K-12 students spend time on the Internet.

Paul Holmes

In early February 2001, the Text 100/N2H2 team received a phone call from Jason Anders at The Wall Street Journal inquiring about how N2H2 gathers and distributes Internet filtering data on where K-12 students go online.  Specifically, Mr. Anders was informed that the Internet filtering company responsible for ensuring a safe and secure Internet experience in the classroom, was gathering and sharing student Internet usage data with third party marketing firms for commercial benefit.  Mr. Anders questioned why a company intent on protecting children in the classroom would be selling private data to marketing firms and ultimately violating the student privacy that the company publicly agreed to protect and uphold.
Several months before the inquiry from The Wall Street Journal, N2H2 announced a partnership agreement with Roper Starch Market Research Firm, one of the oldest and most respected market research firms in the world.  The agreement between the two companies called for N2H2 to provide aggregate and anonymous K-12 Internet usage data to Roper Starch.  The data was provided to Roper Starch for the purpose of informing the research firm’s educational content companies of the Internet site’s students find most useful.  Ultimately the aggregate Internet usage data would enable educational content providers to improve and enhance the quality of Web information in the classroom.
Prior to establishing a data sharing partnership with Roper Starch, N2H2 published and distributed an educational white paper detailing the merits of gathering data on where K-12 students spend time on the Internet.  The white paper explicitly stated that N2H2 was not distributing any personally identifiable information on any student and the company’s top-priority was on protecting the privacy of its customers and end-users.  The white paper also detailed how aggregate data was assisting both educators and Internet educational content providers to better understand why students visit certain Web sites more than others and for what purpose.  In general, school administrators were supportive of gathering and analyzing aggregate school usage data if it helped improve the quality of educational content in the classroom.
Upon receiving the initial inquiry from Jason Anders at The Wall Street Journal, Text 100 notified N2H2 to alert the company of the situation and advise a strategy for an appropriate response.  Recognizing that this inquiry had the potential to be a very damaging story for both N2H2 and Roper Starch, Text 100 recommended an immediate response that included input from the marketing, communications and data gathering managers within N2H2.  Following a general briefing discussion, Text 100 replied to Mr. Anders’ inquiry.  In talking with Mr. Anders, Text 100 pointed out that N2H2 had in fact notified schools (via the white paper and a press N2H2-Roper Starch press release) that the filtering company was gathering aggregate data on K-12 Internet usage for educational content development purposes.  Text 100 also discussed with Mr. Anders that the majority of schools notified about the data gathering practice were in support of the activity, knowing that it would ultimately help teachers better assess appropriate educational Web content in the classroom.
In addition, Text 100 sent Mr. Anders a complete copy of the Internet Usage Data white paper for his review and arranged for him to speak with several school administrators about the issue.  Mr. Anders was receptive to the report and was equally grateful for identifying appropriate educational contacts for follow-up perspective on the issue.
Text 100 also arranged a conference call with N2H2 representatives and members of the sales and communications team at Roper Starch to discuss the inquiry and develop a response plan for a potential Wall Street Journal article.  During the discussion, Text 100 agreed to field all media inquiries about N2H2’s data gathering process.  Roper Starch agreed to field all other media inquiries about how the market research firm shared data with educational content providers.
On January 26, Jason Anders article on N2H2 K-12 Internet usage data gathering was published on the front cover of The Wall Street Journal.  The story was surprisingly well balanced and highlighted that no other company knows more about K-12 student Internet usage than N2H2.  The story mentioned that there were concerns about gathering data on Internet usage in schools, however N2H2 had notified schools of its intent and several school administrators were quoted in support of the activity.  Mr. Anders referenced the N2H2 white paper, the data sharing agreement with Roper Starch and the fact that N2H2 was in compliance with Children’s Online Protection Act (COPA) – as referenced by a quote from a federal COPA attorney. 
Mr. Anders story appeared in the U.S., European and Asian editions of The Wall Street Journal.  As a result of the story, Text 100 and N2H2 fielded more than 25 national business and news media inquiries from such organizations as CNN, CNN Radio, The New York Times, Computer World, [email protected] Week, National Public Radio (NPR), Federal Computing News, and The Seattle Times.
Ultimately, Text 100 was able to take a potentially damaging inquiry and redirect it to result in a fair and balanced news story that elevated N2H2’s presence in the national business press and clarified the company’s involvement in a contentious issue.
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