13.1. Data Obfuscation Procedures for RDX

To receive RDX data, researchers who are approved for a research project must work with their institution’s data czar. Before delivering data through this program, edX works to obscure personally identifying information (PII) by obfuscating obvious identifiers. EdX executes the obfuscation process on every XBlock in the course, including the course itself.

The following topics describe the data obfuscation procedures.

13.1.1. Data Obfuscation Methods

To obfuscate PII and other sensitive information in RDX data packages, edX uses these methods to modify data.

13.1.1.1. Remapping

EdX remaps SQL table column values that are foreign keys, such as the user_id and username values in the auth_userprofile table. This process applies a format-preserving algorithm to the affected data values across all table columns and event member fields. As a result, scripts and software designed to process these values in institution-specific data packages should continue to function as expected for an RDX data package.

13.1.1.2. Removal

Data removal effectively deletes a data value. This process replaces a value with NULL, a zero-length string, or zeros, based on the data type of the column or field.

EdX applies this method to files and columns that contain sensitive data or PII that cannot be remapped to a usable value. Examples include the first_name and last_name columns in the auth_userprofile table and wiki_articlerevision.ip_address.

13.1.1.3. Replacement

The replacement method identifies text strings that have characteristics of PII. Identified values are replaced by token values. EdX typically applies this method to free text, including discussion posts and wiki articles.

The replacement method identifies and replaces the following values.

  • Email addresses in {name}@{destination}.{domain} format. All of the characters in this format must be ASCII.

  • Telephone numbers in common European and U.S. formats.

  • Usernames that match the value in auth_user.username, with the exception of usernames that begin or end with a punctuation mark such as an underscore or hyphen.

    The system identifies and replaces only the username of the person who is associated with the event or row. For example, if a learner identifies a wiki contribution with her username, the system replaces that username if it matches the value in auth_user.username.

  • Names that, after punctuation is removed, match any whitespace delimited words of three or more characters in auth_userprofile.name.

    The system identifies and replaces only the name of the person who is associated with the event or row. For example, if a learner introduces himself on a course discussion page, the system replaces the name if it matches a word in auth_userprofile.name.

EdX uses tokens that identify the category of the information that was replaced, including <<EMAIL>> and <<PHONE_NUMBER>>. As a result, the general meaning of the original text can be inferred from the token.

13.1.1.3.1. Replacement Example

For example, a learner adds this post to a course discussion.

Hi all,
  My name is Jonathan M. Doe (johndoe), and I'm excited to be in this
  class. Looking forward to connecting with everyone.
  My email is johndoe@gmail.com, or you can call me at (123)321-1234.
Thanks,
-Jonathan

Assuming that the learner has values of “johndoe” in auth_user.username and “Jonathan Doe” in auth_userprofile.name, the CommentThread.body in the RDX package appears as follows.

Hi all,
  My name is <<FULLNAME>> M. <<FULLNAME>> (<<USERNAME>>), and I'm excited to
  be in this class. Looking forward to connecting with everyone.
  My email is <<EMAIL>>, or you can call me at <<PHONE_NUMBER>>.
Thanks,
-<<FULLNAME>>

Another example follows, in which the learner’s post does not include any values that the replacement method identifies or replaces. In this case, the CommentThread.body in the RDX package is identical to the original post.

Hi everyone! My name is John, here's my info if you want to contact me!
  Email: johnmdoe (AT) gmail (DOT) com
  Twitter: @jmdoe
  Mobile: 1233211234

13.1.2. Obfuscated Data in Course Content Data Files

13.1.2.1. Obfuscated Data in the course_structure File

An {org}-{course}-{date}-course_structure-{site}-analytics.json file is provided for each course. Its metadata member field stores course settings that can contain sensitive data such as the password used to authenticate a third party service for the course.

Before packaging this file for an RDX research project, edX obfuscates data as follows.

  • EdX only includes an approved subset of the settings that can be defined in the metadata object.

  • EdX removes all of the other fields found in this object.

  • A new field, redacted_metadata, is added to the file. This JSON array lists all of the fields that edX removed.

    An example follows.

    {
      "category": "course",
      "metadata": {...},
      "redacted_metadata": ["field_name"]
    }
    

For more information about this file, see Course Content Data.

13.1.2.2. Obfuscated Data in the course File

An {org}-{course}-course-{site}-analytics.xml.tar.gz file is provided for each course. This compressed file contains exports of all of a course’s content in a set of JSON and XML files.

Note

EdX does not support imports of course files that contain obfuscated data.

13.1.2.2.1. Obfuscated Data in the policy.json File

Like the course_structure file, the policy.json file found in the course file stores course-level settings. To remove data from this file, edX uses the same procedure described for Obfuscated Data in the course_structure File.

Before processing, the course_structure file lists settings by name with their specified values.

{
    "course/course_name": {
        "setting_name": "some_value",
    }
}

After processing, the redacted_attributes array is added to list any field names removed by the obfuscation process.

{
   "course/course_name": {
       "redacted_attributes": ["setting_name"]
   }
}

For more information about this file, see Course Policies.

13.1.2.2.2. Obfuscated Data in the XML Files

The XML files found in the course file store data for course content. The files for course components can contain sensitive data that is defined at the component level, such as passwords for third party services.

Before packaging the XML files for an RDX research project, edX obfuscates data as follows.

  • EdX only includes an approved subset of the settings that can be defined for components.
  • EdX removes all of the other attributes that define component settings.
  • The new redacted_attributes attribute lists all of the attributes that edX removed.
  • The new redacted_children attribute lists all of the child nodes that edX removed.

For more information about this file, see Course Components (XBlocks).

13.1.3. Obfuscated Data in SQL Tables

13.1.3.1. Obfuscated Columns in the auth_user Table

The following table lists the columns in the auth_user table that can contain PII and the obfuscation method that edX applies before the data is included in an RDX package. For more information about this table, see Columns in the auth_user Table.

Column Method
id Remap
username Remap. The result is in the format “username_{remapped id value}”.
first_name Remove
last_name Remove
email Remove
password Remove
status Remove
email_key Remove
avatar_type Remove
country Remove
show_country Remove
date_of_birth Remove
interesting_tags Remove
ignored_tags Remove
email_tag_filter_strategy Remove
display_tag_filter_strategy Remove
consecutive_days_visit_count Remove

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.3.2. Obfuscated Columns in the auth_userprofile Table

The following table lists the columns in the auth_userprofile table that can contain PII and the obfuscation method that edX applies before the data is included in an RDX package. For more information about this table, see Columns in the auth_userprofile Table.

Column Method
user_id Remap (same as auth_user.id)
name Remove
language Remove
location Remove
meta Remove
courseware Remove
mailing_address Remove
city Remove
bio Remove

The self reported, optional values for gender, year_of_birth, level_of_education, goals, and country are not obfuscated.

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.3.3. Obfuscated Columns in the student_courseenrollment Table

The following table lists the columns in the student_courseenrollment table that can contain PII and the obfuscation method that edX applies before the data is included in an RDX package. For more information about this table, see Columns in the student_courseenrollment Table.

Column Method
user_id Remap (same as auth_user.id)

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.3.4. Obfuscated Columns in the user_api_usercoursetag Table

The following table lists the columns in the user_api_usercoursetag table that can contain PII and the obfuscation method that edX applies before the data is included in an RDX package. For more information about this table, see Columns in the user_api_usercoursetag Table.

Column Method
user_id Remap (same as auth_user.id)

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.3.5. Obfuscated Columns in the teams_courseteammembership Table

The following table lists the columns in the teams_courseteammembership table that can contain PII and the obfuscation method that edX applies before the data is included in an RDX package. For more information about this table, see Columns in the teams_courseteammembership Table.

Column Method
user_id Remap (same as auth_user.id)

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.3.6. Obfuscated Columns in the courseware_studentmodule Table

The following table lists the columns in the courseware_studentmodule table that can contain PII and the obfuscation method that edX applies before the data is included in an RDX package. For more information about this table, see Columns in the courseware_studentmodule Table.

Column Method
student_id Remap (same as auth_user.id)
state Replace

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.3.7. Obfuscated Columns in the certificates_generatedcertificate Table

The following table lists the columns in the certificates_generatedcertificate table that can contain PII and the obfuscation method that edX applies before the data is included in an RDX package. For more information about this table, see Columns in the certificates_generatedcertificate Table.

Column Method
user_id Remap (same as auth_user.id)
download_url Remove
verify_uuid Remove
download_uuid Remove
name Remove
error_reason Remove
key Remove

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.3.8. Obfuscated Columns in the verify_student_verificationstatus Table

The following table lists the columns in the verify_student_verificationstatus table that can contain PII and the obfuscation method that edX applies before the data is included in an RDX package. For more information about this table, see Columns in the verify_student_verificationstatus Table.

Column Method
user_id Remap (same as auth_user.id)

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.3.9. Obfuscated Columns in the wiki_article Table

The following table lists the columns in the wiki_article table that can contain PII and the obfuscation method that edX applies before the data is included in an RDX package. For more information about this table, see Fields in the wiki_article File.

Column Method
owner_id Remove
group_id Remove

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.3.10. Obfuscated Columns in the wiki_articlerevision Table

The following table lists the columns in the wiki_articlerevision table that can contain PII and the obfuscation method that edX applies before the data is included in an RDX package. For more information about this table, see Fields in the wiki_articlerevision File.

Column Method
automatic_log Remove
content Replace
ip_address Remove
user_id Remap (same as auth_user.id)
user_message Remove

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.4. Unchanged teams_courseteam SQL Table

The obfuscation process does not change any of the values in the teams_courseteam table. For more information about this table, see Columns in the teams_courseteam Table.

13.1.5. Data Omitted from RDX Packages

The following data is not included in RDX packages.

  • The email opt in report in the {org}-email_opt_in-{site}-analytics.csv file. For more information about this report, see Institution-wide Data.
  • The SQL tables in the data schema for the edX open response assessment (ORA) system. For more information about this data schema, see Open Response Assessment Data.
  • The user_id_map SQL table. For more information about this table, see Columns in the user_id_map Table.

13.1.6. Obfuscated Discussion Data

The following table lists fields in the CommentThread and Comment JSON documents that can contain PII and the obfuscation method that edX applies before the data is included in an RDX package. For more information about these documents, see Discussion Forums Data.

Field Method Found in
author_id Remap (same as auth_user.id) CommentThread and Comment
title Replace CommentThread only
author_username Remap (same as auth_user.username) CommentThread and Comment
body Replace CommentThread and Comment
votes Remap (same as auth_user.id) CommentThread and Comment
endorsement (same as auth_user.id) Remap CommentThread only
abuse_flaggers (same as auth_user.id) Remap CommentThread only
historical_abuse_flaggers Remap (same as auth_user.id) CommentThread only

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.7. Types of Event Data in RDX Packages

RDX data packages include both explicit events and implicit events.

  • Explicit events are designed to capture specific server actions and browser interactions. All of the events documented in the Events in the Tracking Logs section of this guide are included in RDX data packages.
  • Implicit events are automatically generated. To provide information that can help researchers understand learner navigation sequences, RDX packages include implicit events that record actions in areas of the LMS that are not currently instrumented to generate explicit events. This section lists the implicit events that are included in the RDX package.

The following topics list the implicit events that are included in RDX data packages.

Note

Implicit events are not instrumented by edX and are subject to change at any time.

13.1.7.1. Implicit Events for Course Navigation

RDX data packages include implicit events for course navigation that begin with these prefixes.

  • /courses/{course_id}/jump_to_id/
  • /courses/{course_id}/courseware/

Events that indicate navigation to a specific page in the LMS are also included. These events are identified as follows, without additional trailing characters other than a slash.

  • /courses/{course_id}
  • /courses/{course_id}/info
  • /courses/{course_id}/progress
  • /courses/{course_id}/course_wiki
  • /courses/{course_id}/about
  • /courses/{course_id}/teams
  • /courses/{course_id}/{hex32}, where the hex32 value is a 32-character (0-9, A-F) hexadecimal code.

In addition, the following events that indicate specific navigation choices in the LMS are included.

  • /courses/{course_id}/pdfbook/(intX)[/chapter/(intX)/[intX]]
  • /courses/{course_id}/wiki/ All paths for wiki events are included with the exception of those that indicate actions, such as _preview, _edit, _create, and _delete.

13.1.7.2. Implicit Events for Discussion Navigation

RDX data packages include implicit events that indicate specific navigation choices in the course discussions.

  • /courses/{course_id}/discussion/threads/
  • /courses/{course_id}/discussion/comments/
  • /courses/{course_id}/discussion/upload
  • /courses/{course_id}/discussion/users
  • /courses/{course_id}/discussion/forum
  • /courses/{course_id}/discussion/{commentable_id}/threads/create
  • /courses/{course_id}/discussion/forum/{forum_id}/inline
  • /courses/{course_id}/discussion/forum/{forum_id}/search
  • /courses/{course_id}/discussion/forum/{forum_id}/threads
  • /courses/{course_id}/discussion/forum/{forum_id}/threads/{thread-id}

Where commentable_id is (\w\-.)+, forum_id is (\w\-.)+, and thread-id is \w+.

13.1.8. Obfuscated Data in Events

13.1.8.1. Obfuscated Data in Common Fields

The following table lists fields that can contain PII and that are common to all events, with the obfuscation method that edX applies before the data is included in an RDX package.

The common context field, which can contain event-specific member fields, is described in the context member fields topic. For more information about the fields that are common to all events, see Common Fields.

Common Field Method
host Remove
ip Remove
page Remove
referer Remove
username Remap

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.8.2. Obfuscated Data in context Member Fields

The following table lists member fields of the context field that are obfuscated when present for any event.

context Member Field Method
client Remove device or ip if present
host Remove
ip Remove
path Remove
user_id Remap
username Remap (same as auth_user.username)

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.

13.1.8.3. Obfuscated Data in event Member Fields

The following table lists member fields of the event field that are obfuscated when present for any event.

Note

To search for string values to replace, the obfuscation process recursively traverses the entire event data structure. This table lists event member fields that typically include data that is removed or remapped. Additional event member fields can also include data that is replaced.

event Member Field Method
answer.file_upload_key Remove
certificate_id Remove
certificate_url Remove
fileName Remove
GET Remove
instructor Remap (same as auth_user.username)
POST Remove
report_url Remove
requesting_student_id Remove
saved_response.file_upload_key Remove
student Remap (same as auth_user.username)
source_url Remove
url Remove
url_name Remove
user Remap (same as auth_user.username)
user_id Remap (same as auth_user.id)
username Remap (same as auth_user.username)

For more information about how edX changes the data in these fields, see Data Obfuscation Methods.