A formal complaint has been filed against Google by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The EFF and the FTC claim that Google has been actively mining data on the personal information of school children. This has caused many students and their parents to be concerned about their privacy when using Chromebooks provided by the school.
Although Google doesn’t make use of student data for targeted advertising, the EFF found that the “sync” feature of the Google Chrome web browser is turned on by default on Chromebooks that are used by many schools. With this feature, Google is able to track web searches and store them on its servers. Google keeps record of every website that is visited, every search term that is used, any result that is clicked on, any video that is watched and all saved passwords. Google does all of this without the permission of either the students or the parents.
These practices from Google are completely out of line with the Student Privacy Pledge that was signed by the company. This pledge represents a legally enforceable document which states that Google cannot collect, use or share the personal information of students, unless it is for legitimate educational purposes or if permission is provided from the parents.
EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo said, “Despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students’ browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company’s own purposes. Making such promises and failing to live up to them is a violation of FTC rules against unfair and deceptive business practices. Minors shouldn’t be tracked or used as guinea pigs, with their data treated as a profit center. If Google wants to use students’ data to improve Google products, then it needs to get express consent from parents.”
Google has stated that it will soon disable the “sync” function on the school Chromebooks. Although this is a good first step, it doesn’t do enough to correct the violations of the Student Privacy Pledge. Google has also been sharing this information with third party websites, which is another violation of the pledge.
EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope said, “We commend schools for bringing technology into the classroom. Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education have enormous benefits for teaching and preparing students for the future. But devices and cloud services used in schools must, without compromise or loopholes, protect student privacy. We are calling on the FTC to investigate Google’s conduct, stop the company from using student personal information for its own purposes, and order the company to destroy all information it has collected that’s not for educational purposes.”
Really, with all the spying and data collection that is conducted by Google, it’s not much of a surprise that the company would stoop to monitoring children as well. It just goes to show that whenever someone uses a Google product, they are probably being watched in some fashion.