Populi updates for the GDPR

About a month ago we described how Populi was preparing for the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Today we’d like to tell you about the updates we’ve made to accommodate the GDPR and help you comply with the burdens it puts on you.

New tools

We’ve added a few new tools to Populi that let you track “lawful basis for processing” and comply with the data portability requirements of the GDPR.

To help you keep track of lawful basis for data processing, we’ve given you two new tools:

  • The new GDPR report in Admin helps identify people who may be EU citizens but for whom a lawful basis for data processing has not been recorded. It lists people who have EU citizenship, whose primary address is in an EU country, or whose home country is in the EU. You can then decide whether to start tracking lawful basis on a person-by-person basis.
  • On Profile > Info, you can track lawful basis for a person under Other Info. If you set a person’s Citizenship field to an EU member nation, you’ll then have the option to add a data processing basis to her; Populi can also automatically track lawful basis by looking at certain events—for example, the person is given a user account.

We’ve also built a data export tool. The GDPR requires that you provide a way for a “data subject” (EU bureaucratese for human being) to retrieve a copy of all of the data you are storing about her. Your school’s Populi Account Administrator can send a data archive for any person in the system. Active users can also download their own personal data archives.

You can read all about these tools and how to use them in this article.

Data deletion policy

We’ve fine-tuned our data deletion policy to harmonize our legitimate need to retain certain kinds of data with the GDPR’s stipulations. Our “legitimate need” includes things like customer requests to restore deleted data and our use of anonymized statistics in developing Populi. Here’s how we now handle deleted data:

  • When a customer deletes a person or other entity containing personally-identifiable information (an admissions inquiry, for example), it will be immediately inaccessible to the customer. We will retain the data for a period of time to make sure we can restore it if the customer so requests. After that time, the data will be permanently purged from our backups.
  • When a customer deletes a person with an academic or financial record, it will be immediately inaccessible to the customer. However, we will retain the data in our backups in order to preserve the integrity of our database.
  • Some data, rather than being deleted or purged, will be anonymized. For example, we need to retain records of logins. So, if you delete a person who has ever logged in, we will delete anything that can be used to identify that person—but we will retain the anonymous login stats that person generated.
  • If a customer leaves Populi, we will delete and permanently purge their data after a period of time, except for certain kinds of anonymized data as described above.
Legal stuff

Even without the European Union breathing down our necks, we’ve always put a premium on privacy, security, and your ownership of your data. Those things are foundational to Populi—in everything from our legal agreements to our internal policies to the services we provide. We’ve always viewed Populi as a lockbox you put your stuff in; if you ever want to leave, you give us back the box and you take your stuff wherever you want.

Nevertheless, so you have it from us in so many words: we added Section 4.6 to our Privacy Policy to describe our commitment to comply (and help you comply) with the GDPR.


The GDPR is a far-reaching bit of regulation. It’s a dragnet meant to rein in the questionable practices of companies like Google and Facebook (to say nothing of numerous other shady operators) that also snags clean-nosed companies like Populi and organizations like our customers. The reaction to the GDPR in the web services industry has been uneven and confused; as evidence, have a look at your inbox and the torrent of GDPR-related emails you’ve received in the past two weeks. And if the industry is confused, we’re not surprised if you are, too.

If you have questions about GDPR and Populi, get in touch. We’ll be happy to help.

Populi Turns 10

Ten years ago today the first user logged in to Populi. Here are some “since-then” stats to mark the occasion.

  • 200,000 users have logged in over 45 million times
  • 9 million student enrollments in over 1.4 million courses
  • 31 million questions answered on 420,000 tests
  • 4.2 million comments on 483,000 discussions
  • 15.5 million grades on 2.3 million assignments
  • 100,000 applications accepted
  • 199,000 degrees granted
  • 1.2 million to-dos completed
  • 7.7 million files uploaded
  • 1.7 million library resources
  • 600,000 bookstore orders

Thanks to all of you for an awesome first Ten years!

Preparing for the GDPR

On May 25, 2018 the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will go into effect. The EU enacted the GDPR to give its citizens more control over their data and require certain security and transparency measures from the businesses and organizations that keep that data. The GDPR regulates any entity that controls or processes the personal data of any EU citizen—which affects not only Populi but also many of our customers. Here is a guide to how we are preparing for GDPR and the tools we’re building to help our customers who are affected by the new regulations.

Legal language

As contemplated by the GDPR, Populi, as a data processor, provides the tools and services our customers—who are data controllers—may use to collect, store, and maintain personal data about EU citizens (data subjects in GDPR parlance). In light of this, we’re reviewing our public legal documents and will be updating the appropriate sections of each policy. We’re also reviewing our internal Security Policy regarding data deletion, customer data backups, and our own security precautions.


By May 25, 2018, we plan to have released the following Populi updates. These new features will give our customers the tools to comply with the data protection, transparency, and portability requirements of the GDPR for data subjects stored in Populi.

  • We’ll be adding a way to track your “lawful basis” for keeping data about a citizen of the EU, including a report to let you identify people in your system for whom you may need to establish that lawful basis.
  • We’re building a data portability tool that will allow citizens of the EU export data kept about them in Populi.
  • We’re updating our customer data retention procedures to keep in line the GDPR’s requirements for permanent data deletion.
Services we use

The GDPR will not just affect the relationship between Populi and our customers. We ourselves do business with several companies to provide Populi to you. For example, we use Zendesk to provide crucial aspects of our customer support. Our internal review process will cover our own responsibilities in light of these relationships—we will examine our vendors’ own updates to make sure they avail us of the processes and tools we will need.

Your own review

Between these tools and our own internal changes, we’ll be doing our part to prepare for the GDPR. If your school maintains data on any EU citizens (whether in Populi or another system), you may also benefit from your own internal review.

Updates are coming

As we release updates to our software and legal documents, we’ll make sure to inform you via Populi’s system notices, our weekly Release Notes, and other appropriate media.

Course Conferences with BigBlueButton

course conferences

New in Populi courses: Conferences! We've added an integration with BigBlueButton, a web conferencing service designed for online learning. With Conferences, your faculty can offer live video streaming, presentations, a virtual whiteboard, chat, and live discussions right inside Populi courses. Here's how you can get your school started:

  1. Your school gets a hosted version of BigBlueButton through Blindside Networks. Blindside provides BBB hosting and support services to schools around the world. (You can also set up your own hosting environment for BigBlueButton.)
  2. You'll plug some API credentials from Blindside into Account > Integrations.
  3. Immediately, all of your courses will have the new Conferences view. Your faculty and students will be able to start using BBB right away.

Conferences will let you do even more with online courses in Populi. For more details, have a look at the Populi Knowledge Base.

Plagiarism checking with Unicheck

We're pleased to announce the release of one of our customers' most-desired features: plagiarism checking!



We've added a new integration with Unicheck, a web-based plagiarism-checking service. Unicheck compares documents in a wide variety of formats with Internet-based sources, open access libraries and journals, and documents already uploaded to your school's account. After running the check, it presents its findings in a clear, easy-to-read report.

To use the plagiarism features...

  1. Your school sets up its own Unicheck account. Tell them you're a Populi customer and you'll get a month-long free trial!
  2. Enter some credentials in Account > Integrations.
  3. You're ready to go!

After completing these steps, your faculty can start setting up assignments  to check for plagiarism. File and Essay assignment types (including the Peer Review versions) have new options for plagiarism checking. You can choose to check student submissions automatically, and whether or not to share the plagiarism report with the student.



When viewing a student's submitted assignment, just click Check for plagiarism. After a few moments, you'll see a link to View plagiarism report; this opens a panel showing you Unicheck's findings. You can then download the report to PDF; Unicheck also gathers up statistics from the submissions for inclusion in its high-level reports.

The new feature is available right now. Have a look at the Knowledge Base to learn more about plagiarism checking in Populi.

Coming soon: Online attendance tracking and reporting

Coming soon to online courses: automatic attendance tracking. It'll save your faculty a lot of time and will make for more accurate attendance records for your online courses.

Active participation interface

The current attendance workflow for online courses looks like this: Courses are given a single, weekly attendance meeting time. Then, once a week, the course faculty reviews the previous week's student activity—discussion posts, lesson progress, assignment submissions, and so on—and marks student attendance for the week based on that activity (or lack thereof). The attendance stats are then pushed to the various reports in Populi, including the SAP report in Financial Aid, where that weekly date supplies the all-important date of last attendance.

With the new features, all you need to do is set a course to use an online delivery method (you can use Populi's built-in Online method or a custom method you designate as such). When you do that, Populi will automatically record certain Federally-approved student activities (submitting assignments, starting or posting in discussions, taking tests) as "participation". In turn, participation stats are included in the new Online Attendance report in Academics, the Data Slicer, and the SAP report in Financial Aid—where participation is used to determine a student's date of last attendance.

Populi will do all this whenever you use an online delivery method, whether at the beginning of the term or even later on. In the latter case, Populi will backfill participation data based on the records it already keeps of student activity. Of course, faculty will also be able to manually add participation records if need be. Additionally, mixed campus/online courses will include both attendance options—the regular meeting times for classroom events as well as the participation records that comprise online attendance.

Less work and better record-keeping: we think you'll like it! We hope to have online attendance tracking in your hands in the near future—make sure to follow our Release Notes to see when it's live!