Google accused of tracking school kids after it promised not to

2 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

EFF: Google Chromebooks are slurping student data.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google is being accused of invading the privacy of students using laptop computers powered by the Internet company’s Chrome operating system.Google has been collecting information about schoolchildren’s browsing habits despite signing a pledge saying it was committed to their privacy, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a complaint filed Tuesday. The digital rights group said Google’s use of the data, collected through its Google for Education program, puts the company in breach of Section 5 of the Federal Communications Act and asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. “Despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students’ browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company’s own purposes,” the EFF said. The EFF says that Google tracks and mines records of every site, search, result and video that students watch without obtaining permission from students or their parents.

The complaint alleges that Google rigged the “Chromebook” computers in a way that enables the company to collect information about students’ Internet search requests and online video habits. Minors shouldn’t be tracked or used as guinea pigs, with their data treated as a profit centre.” The complaint is backed by EFF’s “Spying on Students” campaign, following research into the privacy risks of using electronic devices and services.

The complaint contends Google’s storage and analysis of the student profile violates a “Student Privacy Pledge” that the company signed last year. Google provides a suite of tools for schools and higher education that mirror those available to businesses and consumers, allowing them to offload some of the IT infrastructure to a paid-for cloud-based service. The pledge, which covers more than 200 companies, contains a provision guaranteeing that students’ personal information won’t be exploited for “non-educational” purposes. Last month, Google said more than 50 million students and teachers around the globe were using Google Apps for Education, along with 10 million Chromebooks. If Google wants to use students’ data to ‘improve Google products’ it needs to get express consent from parents.” We have asked Google to comment on this and are waiting for a response.

The foundation is calling on the FTC to investigate Google, stop it from using information on students’ activities for its own purposes and order it to destroy any information it has collected that’s not related to education. The EFF, meanwhile, is very vocal, saying that settings on Chromebooks allow personal information to be shared with third parties, and that this effectively lets the firm stalk kids around the internet. Making such promises and failing to live up to them is a violation of FTC rules against unfair and deceptive business practices.” Google’s Chromebooks, which run a stripped-down operating system based around the company’s Chrome browser and as such have very low system requirements, have found success in education where they can be bought for significantly lower cost than most other computers. Chromebooks have become particularly popular in schools because some models sell for less than $300 and can be easily maintained by Google over the Internet. But the way Google has managed some of its other products have previously gotten the Mountain View, California, company into trouble for violating its users’ privacy.

It says the company records everything students do while they’re logged into their Google accounts, regardless of the device or browser they’re using, including their search history, the search results they click on and the videos they watch on YouTube. In 2012, Google paid a $22.5 million fine after the FTC concluded the company had created a technological loophole that enabled its digital advertising network to shadow the online activities of people using Apple’s Safari browser without their consent. And it argues that truly anonymizing data is “difficult to the point of being impossible,” especially when it’s tied to identifiable accounts at the time of collection.

Google declined to discuss the specifics of the EFF’s allegations but provided a statement: “Our services enable students everywhere to learn and keep their information private and secure. While we appreciate EFF’s focus on student privacy, we are confident that these tools comply with both the law and our promises, including the Student Privacy Pledge.” The EFF apparently won at least one concession from Google. It had an issue with the way the Chrome Sync feature in the Chrome browser is turned on by default in Chromebooks and shares student data across different Google services.

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