I am filing today a privacy complaint in thirteen European regions against Coursera, Inc.

Happy Data Protection Day, everyone!
The homepage of the course I taught for Coursera

I have fought against a few billion dollar companies and won to get access to my personal data. However one company has been extremely reluctant to give me access to personal data of high relevance to me. This company, Coursera, is the dominating platform for providing Massive Open Online Courses. In fact, it has used of this position to censor my views in the online course I was myself teaching! This course was, non-coincidentally, partly about privacy laws and business models around education data… I intended, among other things, to explain how Coursera’s contracts circumvented EU privacy laws, with little pushback by partner universities.

Even though academic freedom is a fundamental right in the Swiss constitution, Coursera was able to casually ignore it. The circumstances surrounding this censorship are still very murky, twenty months later. At the time, Coursera even engaged in defamation and mislead journalists. Coursera’s actions even lead my employer to initiate a disciplinary investigation, although I have never been informed of any formal accusations. Ever since, I have attempted to ask for my personal data to help clarify and document the circumstances of their actions and their practices, but Coursera has so far failed to meet their legal obligations. I have made many attempts at resolving the matter directly and through an arbitrator (legal procedure still ongoing). Coursera has gone as far as claiming that their Privacy Policy actually doesn’t apply to me, despite me having to sign their Terms of Use when opening an account. It is currently extremely difficult to force U.S. companies to comply with their data protection obligations towards European users, but Coursera’s data processing practices are particularly opaque.

Coursera’s response to a request made under Safe Harbor

My struggles (Swiss radio, English version of German newspaper) have by now only increased my concern for the future of higher education in Europe if such practices are left unchecked. For these and additional reasons, I will be filing today a complaint to the Data Protection Authorities of twelve European regions, selecting those where Coursera has a business partner (note that most of these partners are public universities).

The complaint consists of the following files:


The relevant Data Protection Authorities are:

I will also send a copy to the European Data Protection Supervisor.