Piazza Response To Blog Post On Student Privacy

Based on Thursday’s blog post “Popular Discussion Platform Piazza Getting Pushback For Selling Student Data”, Piazza’s CEO Pooja Sankar invited me to meet at their offices Friday afternoon. Given the nature of Thursday’s post, I offered to publish any statement that Piazza had in response here at e-Literate, an offer they accepted. I will defer further analysis for a few days.  – PH

Update: In the process of making copy-editing changes, we accidentally temporarily removed links accessibility and FERPA compliance documentations. They have been restored to the current draft.

Sorry about that.

Statement From Piazza CEO Pooja Sankar

We at Piazza take our obligations to our community of students, professors, and institutions of higher education very seriously. We cherish and safeguard the privacy of our community. But we made a mistake by not engaging and responding to a way befitting of the trust placed in us. Many of our 1500 Universities reached out quite reasonably to enter into legal agreements for the free service. But as a lean, sub-30 person company without in-house legal, we were overwhelmed with all the (expensive) requests for one-off contracts (for a free Q&A service). We handled it poorly. This unfortunately gave people the impression that we were arrogant. You deserve better. We can do better.

We are committed to fixing this. In fact we already have started. We have entered into agreements with Georgia Tech and Brown, and have ongoing engagement with Stanford, UBC and UC Davis[1]. In our conversations universities have been very happy with our policies, practice, and compliance. We are fully committed to entering into contracts with universities that protect students, professors, and the institutions including FERPA, accessibility, and more.

Piazza has two offerings: Piazza Q&A and Piazza Careers. Piazza Q&A is governed by FERPA and is compliant. Piazza Careers is a separate (consumer) product that students opt-in to (and can opt-out of at any time). It helps students and employers connect — to find career opportunities that are compelling and motivating to them. Only opted-in students’ data is accessible to employers. It helps students with the transition from university to their career. Piazza Careers has democratized the access to the best opportunities so it isn’t just the students at Stanford who by virtue of network and proximity have access to the greatest opportunities. Piazza Careers levels the playing field and promotes meritocracy. And from our students’ stand point it is working:

I wanted to reach out and say thank you. Piazza Careers put me on Yelp’s radar, something that I was not able to accomplish through applying directly to the company online. Your support … and inclusion in suggesting changes to Piazza’s core product helped give me the confidence to thrive at Yelp.

Today marks the first day that I will be transitioning to the engineering management team at Yelp, leading a team of 10 highly skilled engineers, and I owe a great deal of gratitude to you and the Piazza product.

– K. W., UMD ’14 Grad (shared with permission)

As a final note, any institution that has reached out before or wants to going forward has my personal commitment ([email protected]) to responsive, meaningful engagement befitting the trust you place in us and the respect we have for you.

Sincerely,
Pooja

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  1. In fact at UC Davis we now have an agreement in principle, but the lawyers can’t sign it until a professor asks for it via a formal procurement process. []

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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One Response to Piazza Response To Blog Post On Student Privacy

  1. NoChildExploited$ says:

    Questions still outstanding after this response:

    – Are the contracts they are negotiating with these universities for use of endorsement and logos on piazza.com? Or are these agreements for standards of data privacy and handling? If data privacy and handling, this would be a good time for them to take a full transparency approach and share this to their entire user base publicly.

    – Why are they receiving sales requests for a separate product, Piazza Careers to [email protected]? For conflict of interest reasons I would think these would remain separately (maybe a bit nit picky but none the less something to consider). See https://recruiting.piazza.com/packages for this.

    – After admitting fault in existing and historical practices with further mention of intent to reform, how will the downstream share of the unintended opt-in data be handled? Can it truly be handled in a way that fully restores them to a state of proper data share procedure?

    The following appears to be a common scenario that they have acknowledged occurring:
    1. Student required to sign up for piazza.com as a part of their coursework
    2. While signing up for a purely academic tool, piazza.com, the student was opted into something of which they weren’t fully informed on that is a not purely academic tool, piazzacareers.com
    3. Student coursework interactions and other data was made visible in the application of a not purely educational nature subsequently opening the students up to career marketing in a talent market that has always dreamed of having such close access to student data as soon as possible to gain competitive advantage while they’re impressionable.

    The even deeper, non-user facing and underlying challenge with the above scenario is the downstream flow of that data they are selling access to…

    Visit: https://recruiting.piazza.com/packages

    Read Specifically the below feature that is available in both their “Full Access” and “Diversity Add-On (Limited)” packages:
    “Share and discuss candidates across your entire team
    Ensure a seamless candidate experience with advanced workflows and ATS integrations.”

    An ATS integration means they are sending data to the applicant tracking systems of these companies that are paying for piazzacareers.com. That data is then likely being downloaded into reports and sent to business intelligence systems and data warehouses. How is piazza going to get the data of the people who were opted in through an unethical process out of all of those downstream systems that they allow the customers of piazzacareers.com to integrate with? I can confidently say, it won’t happen.

    Please also visit: https://recruiting.piazza.com/BestPractices

    On the final page, page number 14, it explains how to “Keep your activity on the platform and outside of it, in sync.”

    This page further states:
    “We’ve seen companies have numerous data sources – their ATS, digital resume books, paper resumes collected from career fairs, and applications from other sources or job boards. Our goal is to help streamline your workflow as best as possible.
    Export is enabled from folders. Whether they’re students you already interacted with through the platform, or students you intend to message off the platform, add them to folders and with a simple click, export the folder of students to get their names, emails, academic information, and a zip file of resumes.”

    One thing further I will be looking into is some of the things noticed in the Best Practices catalog. Such as on page 13 – I’m unsure if it is inline with Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) to sell the ability to recruiting teams to “Connect with other minority groups – African Americans, LGBTQ, first-generation college students, and more.” and “Run targeted searches using our diversity filters.” I will take a bit of a further look into the extent to which demographic consideration is legal within the recruiting process.

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