Schools in Baden-Württemberg must switch to alternative services after the summer vacations in 2022. That’s what the state’s data protection commissioner, Dr. Stefan Birk, is calling for. Read here what the data protection officer has to say and how the changeover will work.

After years of pandemic, digital teaching has become established in Germany’s schools. Services like Teams, the communication and collaboration tool in the Microsoft 365 suite, make it possible for students to switch to distance learning if the corona situation requires it. However, data protection-compliant use of Microsoft 365 is not guaranteed, argues state data protection commissioner Dr. Stefan Birk.

The end was foreseeable

As early as September 2020, the Philologenverband Baden Württemberg warned against the use of MS 365, and many students and parents also complained to the supervisory authority about the use of Microsoft’s Teams cloud service – a platform that combines chat, meetings, notes and attachments. The problem: Even when users disable the collection of telemetry and diagnostic data during use, data transfers to the U.S. take place. This was discovered by the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs as part of a pilot project monitored by the data protection commissioner. Stefan Birk concludes that it is neither completely comprehensible which personal data is processed for which purposes, nor do the schools have complete control over the overall system.

Schools under pressure to act

His plan now is to approach the affected schools and help them switch to data protection-compliant providers. There are about 40 schools in Baden-Württemberg that must act now. While Birk is not issuing a ban on continuing to use MS 365. But the use beyond the summer vacations requires the schools to clearly demonstrate data protection-compliant operation. Since this is unlikely to be feasible, the Ministry of Education offers free alternatives. Here, the learning platforms Moodle and Itslearning are under discussion, which can also be used for video conferencing. Both are proven programs that schools can switch to. For vocational schools, however, the switch poses another problem: Many cooperating companies from industry and commerce use Microsoft applications – and will continue to do so after the 2022 summer vacation.

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