Google: No, We’re Not Snooping on Students With Our Chromebooks, Apps

3 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

EFF: Google ‘Deceptively’ Collects Students’ Personal Data.

Yesterday, the EFF announced the launch of a campaign called ‘Spying on Students’ to raise awareness about privacy risks for technology used at schools. An advocacy group has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission that claims Google is collecting data about elementary and junior high school students’ Internet activity.Google is disputing the accusation that it invaded the privacy of students using laptop computers powered by the tech giant’s Chrome operating system.Search giant Google has been accused of collecting data from school children as young as seven, despite making a legally-binding commitment to refrain from such shady activities.If there’s one place where Google’s low-cost notebooks running Chrome have caught on, it’s in schools: 3.4 million Chromebooks were shipped to the educational sector in 2014, with the majority of those ending up in the hands of students.

The campaign came with a complaint that it filed with the FTC against Google, claiming that the company collects and data mines school children’s personal info, including what they search for. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says Chromebooks sold to schools mine students’ data for non-advertising purposes thanks to the “Sync” functionality in Google Chrome. “Despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students’ browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company’s own purposes,” said EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozo in a press release. “Minors shouldn’t be tracked or used as guinea pigs, with their data treated as a profit center. Google’s use of children’s data is just one component in a larger discussion of how to define consumer rights in data collection and what level of responsibility technology companies should bear in protecting their data.

If Google wants to use students’ data to ‘improve Google products,’ then it needs to get express consent from parents.” Google told the EFF that it will disable the setting on school Chromebooks that allow Chrome Sync data to be shared in the near future. 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. The company reportedly keeps records of every website students visit, every search term they use, the results they click on, videos they look for and watch on YouTube, and their saved passwords. And there’s a good chance parents don’t know about — and can’t prevent — this data collection, since Google doesn’t obtain permission from students and their parents, and some schools require students to use Chromebooks, the EFF says.

After initially declining to sign the pledge, Google eventually caved in to pressure from advocacy groups in January, amid fears that it would open the door to students’ personal information being used for advertising purposes. Google is one of more than 200 companies that have signed the Student Privacy Pledge, a document that holds companies legally accountable for maintaining student privacy and preventing the unauthorized sale or misuse of their data. The feature allows users to ensure they’ve got the same browser setup regardless of which computer they’re on, and in order to sync settings across the Internet, Google needs to upload those settings to its servers.

It all comes back to Google’s Chromebooks (and Google Apps for Education suite) being doled out at school and a “sync” feature, that’s turned on by default, potentially tying personal data to school work, activities and communications. Google collected this information using the “Sync” feature in the Chrome browser, the default browser of the popular Chromebooks used by many schools. It’s clear that Google’s mission to get their computers into schools and enterprise organizations is to clasp down on a new potential stream of Google (and Alphabet) consumers. “Get em while they’re young” is a battle cry for many marketers, but Google has made a statement to set the record straight. The news comes after toy-maker VTech admitted today that it has suffered a devastating cyber attack, resulting in millions of pictures of children being stolen, along with their names and birthdays.

The EFF complaint also maintains that Google was also able to collect student information by tracking students in their Google for Education accounts, and that this information could be shared with third parties using administrative settings. “We commend schools for bringing technology into the classroom. 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. Rochelle added: “Schools can control whether students or teachers can use additional Google consumer services — like YouTube, Maps, and Blogger — with their GAFE accounts.” Personal data is beyond important, as our entire lives are spread out over multiple services that operate online in one way or another.

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