Special Reports

University of Michigan Stops Vendor's Offer to Sell Student Data for AI Training


In response to a social media post alleging the university's involvement in licensing student data, University spokesperson Colleen Mastony clarified that student data has never been up for sale. Mastony attributed the misinformation to a third-party vendor who inaccurately represented the university's stance on data sharing.

University of Michigan Stops Vendor's Offer to Sell Student Data for AI Training
(Photo : UNSPLASH / Mathew Schwartz)

On Thursday of last week, an employee at Google shared a screenshot on the social media platform X, capturing a sponsored message they had received on LinkedIn. The message, from an unknown company, said the University of Michigan was "licensing academic speech data and student papers" that could "be very useful for training or tuning LLMs," or large language models, which are used to train artificial intelligence.

READ ALSO: College Board Settles for $750,000 Over Illegally Selling Student Data

Mastony clarified that the papers and recordings mentioned in the message were provided voluntarily by students, who had given signed consent. These materials were sourced from two research studies conducted between 1997 to 2000 and 2006 to 2007. Importantly, the content did not contain any identifiable personal information or names.

Details of the Allegation

The controversy surrounding the University of Michigan erupted when a sponsored message on LinkedIn suggested that the institution was offering academic speech data and student papers for licensing purposes. This raised concerns about potential privacy violations and ethical implications of selling student data.

The message, shared by an unknown company, claimed that the University of Michigan was providing access to a comprehensive dataset that included 829 student papers, 65 speech events, and 85 hours of audio recordings. It further stated that this data could be valuable for training or tuning large language models (LLMs), an integral component of artificial intelligence technology.

Protecting Student Privacy

Upon investigation, Mastony clarified that the referenced papers and recordings were voluntarily contributed by students as part of two research studies conducted between 1997 to 2000 and 2006 to 2007. Importantly, these contributions were made with signed consent, and the content provided did not contain any identifiable personal information.
Furthermore, Mastony emphasized that the papers and recordings have long been available for free to academics and have been utilized as educational resources to enhance writing skills and articulation in academia.

Commitment to Ethical Data Practices

The University of Michigan's swift response to the allegations underscores its commitment to upholding ethical standards and protecting student privacy. By promptly addressing the misinformation and clarifying the circumstances surrounding the data in question, the university aims to reassure its academic community and the public about its data handling practices.
Moving forward, the university will continue to prioritize transparency and accountability in its data practices. It reaffirms its dedication to protecting student privacy and promoting responsible data stewardship in the age of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence.

Preserving Trust and Integrity

In conclusion, while the controversy surrounding the alleged sale of student data has raised valid concerns, the University of Michigan's clarification demonstrates its unwavering commitment to ethical conduct and data privacy. By maintaining transparency and upholding rigorous ethical standards, the university seeks to preserve trust and integrity within its academic community and beyond.

This incident serves as a reminder of the importance of clear communication and ethical considerations in the rapidly evolving landscape of data usage. As universities engage with new technologies and collaborative ventures, maintaining trust with students and stakeholders remains paramount. The University of Michigan's proactive approach in addressing this situation sets a precedent for responsible data practices in academia.

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