Protect key information: Guide to Facebook, FERPA, HIPAA

Know and control what information is being released about you—both on social media and in general. Just recently, Facebook has gotten into trouble… again.

Investigations by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and lawsuits from social media users have been filed against Facebook, for it has been discovered that Facebook users using an Android phone have had their call logs and texts compromised by Facebook. There has also been controversy involving the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, who harvested and exploited the data of 50 million Facebook users. This is the same firm who improperly harvested data in their position as consultant in the 2016 presidential election. In light of all of this scandal, could it be the end for Facebook? Facebook has lost $80 million in market value, and its CEO has been called to testify in Congress on its data collecting practices. Important figures, such as Elon Musk, have deleted his account for Tesla and SpaceX because of the data breaches.

If a student uses social media, especially on an Android phone, they need to take special precautions to ensure that Facebook is not collecting his or her private information. If students want to protect their call logs and texts from Facebook, he or she needs to make sure their Privacy Settings on his or her phones are set to protect him or her from having an application, like Facebook, collecting that type of information. Also, students need to check their Facebook account’s privacy settings and opt to not have their call logs or texts recorded by Facebook. If they need help with these settings, a student can contact their cell phone provider for assistance.

Privacy is a big issue, and leaks of private information can be very damaging to an individual. Students’ health information is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws. If a doctor wants to get a student’s health information from another health-care provider, the student must sign a HIPAA Release Form to give the doctor permission to gather this information. No one’s health information can be publicized without their consent. A student is entitled to have their own health information, but anyone else who seeks this information must have the patient’s written permission. A doctor will have a student fill out the HIPAA Release Form when they fill out new patient paperwork. HIPAA is a federal law, and it protects the patient from having their information released to just anyone.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act(FERPA) is a federal law that protects students’ educational information.

“In today’s world of electronic records, online transactions and digital communications, an individual’s preferences, buying behaviors and affiliations represent a treasure trove of data that can be used to sell products or even influence actions,”SHSU Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications Kristina Kaskel-Ruiz said.

The social media giant, Facebook, is embroiled in a controversy that has members, lawyers and the governments of several nations taking a hard look at the platform’s use (or abuse) of private information. There has been some talk of imposing regulations.

While attending a university, your personal information and educational records hold critical and private data. So, as a student, what do you need to know in order to protect your privacy?

For starters, in 1974 the federal government enacted FERPA to protect the privacy of student education records. “Education records” are those records, file documents and other material, which contain information directly related to a student and are maintained by the university or by a party acting on behalf of the institution. In general, this means records relating to academic advising, health center treatment and student discipline are protected from release by FERPA.

When a student turns 18 or enters a postsecondary institution, at any age, all rights under FERPA are transferred from a parent to the student.

Referred to as “directory information,” some educational records and forms of personal information are exempt from FERPA protection. SHSU’s directory information includes:

  • Student’s name
  • Street address
  • Email address
  • Telephone number
  • Date of birth
  • Dates of attendance
  • Degrees and awards received
  • Major and minor field(s) of studies
  • Class
  • Participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  • Most recent previous educational agency or institution attended by the student
  • Weight and height, if student is a member of an intercollegiate athletic team

Unless a student places a hold on the directory information, this data can be released to anyone. Be aware that restricting access to directory information could have unintended consequences. Potential employers would not be able to verify enrollment or degree completion while any awards or honors could not be publicized.

Outside of the directory information, very few exceptions permit the release of education records. Most of those exceptions involve a student’s own consent or rare situations such as a health or safety emergency or court order.

It is essential to know what information is published and publicized about us. So, students, please check with your cell phone providers about your privacy settings on your phones and on social media. Also, be aware of what you are releasing about your medical and educational histories. This will protect you, one day down the road, when you apply for life or medical insurance, a house or employment.


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