Google has silently acquired a widely-used K-12 data and analytics company.
The tech giant confirmed, in an email to EdSurge, that it’s picked up BrightBytes for an undisclosed amount.
The acquisition does not appear to have been publicly announced. And Google declined to provide any details, including when the sale had taken place.
But an email about the deal sent by Google to a school district in early May, obtained by EdSurge, cites May 17th as the expected date of the transaction.
The acquisition will help Google to transform school district data “into actionable intelligence to improve the academic and overall well-being of all students,” the email says.
What About the Data?
There are many unknowns at the moment. But the rationale for the deal was connected to BrightBytes’ data, a play to build up Google Education.
BrightBytes is known primarily for its “Clarity for Schools” platform, which provides educators with analysis concerning how tech spending and use affect student outcomes.
“BrightBytes has a powerful platform that can securely integrate various data sources effectively and efficiently to provide useful visualizations and real time data for education leaders,” a spokesperson for Google said in the company’s email to EdSurge.
In that email, Google described BrightBytes as a “perfect compliment” to Google Classroom and Workspace for Education.
It also implied that BrightBytes’ operations may get absorbed in the future:
“Over time, we will evaluate how to best offer their solutions alongside or integrated with our education products and will support existing customers through the transition without disruption,” the spokesperson said.
The acquisition raises some concerns about how BrightBytes’ data could be used.
“Interesting move and wonder about use of student data from Brightbytes in the greater ecosystem of google products,” wrote edtech expert Jin-Soo Huh on Twitter, in one of the only public comments on the deal from the edtech industry.
Google said it will uphold the terms of existing contracts held by BrightBytes, Inc., in the letter to the school district obtained by EdSurge.
Though, at least one state is currently hammering out future data-sharing terms with Google.
Mississippi is entering into negotiations with Google to get a uniform data-sharing agreement across school districts, says Tracy Daniel-Hardy, the director of technology at Gulfport School District in Mississippi.
In the lead-up to and the early phases of the pandemic, the Mississippi legislature had disbursed money to build up the state’s capacity for remote learning, including the purchase of devices for students and teachers. As part of that arrangement, Daniel-Hardy says, data about the effectiveness of the devices has to be collected and sent back to the state using BrightBytes.
Previously, districts in Mississippi each had data-sharing agreements with BrightBytes. But since Google took over, Daniel-Hardy says, there’s less flexibility with the data-sharing agreements.
Besides, not everyone is comfortable having Big Tech in charge of this potentially sensitive data.
Outside of this latest acquisition, Mississippi and Google have a somewhat bumpy past on the question of student data.
Former Mississippi state attorney general Jim Hood even sued Google over how the company handles school data, arguing that the company wasn’t clear about its policies concerning tracking students using its G Suite for Education service.
In the email concerning the BrightBytes deal obtained by EdSurge, Google says it is “committed to protecting student data.” But Daniel-Hardy says she wants more assurance that Google will protect personally identifiable information about students and staff, and that it won’t be used for marketing.