By the start of the fall semester, MIT students’ permanent home addresses, term phone numbers, and term addresses will no longer be displayed in the online MIT people directory.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the MIT Student Information Policy outline which pieces of personal information MIT can collect and display to the public. The directory previously included, when applicable, each student’s name, course, year, email address, MIT office address, MIT office phone number, permanent home address, term phone number, and term address. MIT students could submit a request for repression to the registrar if they did not want certain pieces of this information displayed.
With the recent changes in effect, MIT still retains all personal information given by students, but the default is to now not to publicly display the latter three pieces.
“We’re just updating some of our information so that we can correctly inform students of this change,” said Mary Callahan, co-chair of the Committee on Student Information Policy, in an interview with The Tech. “The IT part is all set to go, so within a few weeks we can put the changes into effect.”
Personal information has been a part of the MIT directory “since the paper era,” said Christopher D. Aakre, a fifth-year PhD student in the biology department and Graduate Student Council (GSC) secretary.
Now that the directory is online, personal information is much more easily accessible, which in turn can facilitate misuse. Concerned about students’ privacy and the possibility of harassment, Professors Amy E. Keating and Stephen P. Bell, co-chairs of the Biology Department Graduate Committee, sent out an email in April to graduate students in the biology department.
This email was an effort to “make graduate students aware of what information was being disclosed in the on-line directory,” said Aakre in an interview with The Tech, and “encourage grad students to submit a request for repression if they felt it necessary.”
Aakre and other members of the Graduate Student Council (GSC) decided that this issue deserved more attention. They sent out a poll via email asking graduate students in the biology department how they felt about specific pieces of their personal information being publicly available.
Of the 112 biology graduate students who responded, a majority of graduate students thought that their email addresses, office phone numbers, and office addresses should be public, and that their personal phone numbers and home addresses should be private.
Aakre said, “The poll was more just to get a pulse on what graduate students thought,” adding that it was only given to students in the Biology Department, and therefore does not represent the entire graduate student population.
Aakre and his colleagues presented the survey data and their perspectives on this issue to the MIT administration, whom he said were “incredibly collaborative and willing to work with us.” He added that additional polling was not needed to bring relevance to this issue.
Aakre said that he received positive feedback from graduate students, some of whom “had personally suffered harassment as a result of this information being publicly disclosed.”
Noting that students can contact one another via social media and email more easily than with the contact information in the MIT directory, Callahan said, “If you look back on the purpose for displaying that information, it’s no longer needed.”
“I’d like to thank the students in terms of working with administration to bring forth a good solution,” said Callahan, “I think the changes are to the benefit of the MIT community.”
Though many students from Aakre’s survey felt that information should only be available to people within the MIT community, there is no current discussion of implementing a certificate-protected directory.
“I think this is information that most people are comfortable sharing with the public; it’s your professional contact information,” said Aakre.