Blackboard Collaborate – Built to support student privacy



As schools and universities have had to rapidly move their teaching online to adapt to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the use of web conferencing solutions has increased dramatically in the last few weeks. This rush to get online quickly has exposed privacy and security issues in many of the mainstream commercially available web conferencing tools that are not specifically built for education. It seems like barely a day goes by without more headlines about new privacy and security flaws.

Our Blackboard Collaborate virtual classroom solution has the advantage of being designed and built specifically for education. Our education clients have been using Collaborate for over 10 years. This has given us a lot of experience in serving our clients’ needs including those regarding student privacy and security.

Blackboard has a strong commitment to data privacy and has signed the Student Privacy Pledge. An important aspect of this commitment is to support our clients with their data privacy obligations. Collaborate, as all of our products, is designed to help our clients meet the requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), State student privacy laws, and the strict EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The core principles behind our data privacy approach are pretty simple:

  • You own the data. We know that your data is entrusted to us and that we have an obligation to look after it properly and only use it as instructed by you;
  • We don’t use or share student data for marketing or advertising purposes and don’t share your data with social media companies. No ifs or buts. We also don’t have user tracking functionalities that can cause student rebellions, like checking if users focus on their screens;
  • We use the stringent European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) standard globally and offer our clients data processing agreements that meets the GDPR and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) requirements. We also host our clients in their region.

In addition to these core data privacy principles, it’s important for a virtual classroom tool to provide privacy-friendly functionalities. For instance, Collaborate users are notified when recording starts, stored chats can be made anonymous, and users can also chat privately.

Security of our user data is crucial. Collaborate is built on Amazon Web Services’ industry-leading hosting security controls. Data is encrypted when traversing the open internet. We also offer secure user authentication through Blackboard Learn which prevents unauthorized users “gate-crashing” your sessions. And we responsibly delete client data 30-days after the contract term ends.

We published a data sheet that outlines how Collaborate can help our clients meet their privacy obligations. There are two versions of the data sheet: one for our U.S. clients and the other for our international clients. They also include helpful best practices for administrators, instructors, and users.