Google accused of tracking school kids after it promised not to

The EFF says Google collects data from students and uses it to target ads and improve its products

Google has been collecting information about US 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 US 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.

Google and Microsoft both have extensive programs for educators. Google sells low-cost Chromebooks and tablets, and it offers free apps that teachers and students can use in the classroom.

The tools can be a boon to cash-strapped schools, which have signed up in big numbers. 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. The Google-powered laptops are "the best-selling device in U.S. K-12 schools," according to Google.

But the EFF has some issues with the way Google delivers those services. 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.

Google aggregates and anonymizes the data collected through its education services, the EFF said, but not when the students are using other Google services. 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's practices "fly in the face of commitments made when it signed the Student Privacy Pledge," the EFF said, referring to a document signed by 200 companies including Google, Microsoft and Apple.

In light of the pledge, the EFF says, Google's collection of student data amounts to an unfair or deceptive business practice. It wants the FTC to investigate, force Google to destroy the student data it's collected, and bar it from collecting any more.

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. Google told the EFF it would soon disable that setting in Chromebooks sold to schools.

"While that is a small step in the right direction, it doesn’t go nearly far enough to correct the violations of the Student Privacy Pledge currently inherent in Chromebooks being distributed to schools," the EFF said.

Join the newsletter!

Or
Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

James Niccolai

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Mobile

Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >

Exec

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?