In a new filing with the FTC, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) alleges that Google is tracking students’ internet usage through its Google Apps for Education program. The problem is that Google signed the Student Privacy Pledge — it’s the old logo, so does the signature still count? — stating it wouldn’t use students’ personal information for “bad” purposes.
While Google does not use student data for targeted advertising within a subset of Google sites, EFF found that Google’s “Sync” feature for the Chrome browser is enabled by default on Chromebooks sold to schools. This allows Google to track, store on its servers, and data mine for non-advertising purposes, records of every Internet site students visit, every search term they use, the results they click on, videos they look for and watch on YouTube, and their saved passwords. Google doesn’t first obtain permission from students or their parents and since some schools require students to use Chromebooks, many parents are unable to prevent Google’s data collection.
Obviously, if this is true, Google has some “‘splainin’ to do.”
The EFF alleges that Google’s privacy violations occur in three instances:
- When students are logged into their Google accounts;
- Having Chrome Sync on by default on Chromebooks; and
- Through Administrative settings in GAFE and Chrome.
The issues the EFF addresses in this complaint are similar to issues some businesses have regarding Google’s data collection practices. And the three allegations are definitely ones to check and monitor if you’re concerned about sharing information.
The EFF isn’t seeking monetary relief. Rather, EFF wants 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. I don’t know the feasibility of the destruction portion, but I’m sure Google can figure that out.
Personally, provided Google isn’t tagging my information by IP address — certainly an easily identifiable marker — I’m not opposed to sharing with Google how I use its products or the internet specifically. And I suspect many folks feel the same way. However, I am concerned when Google, or anyone else, begins sharing my information with third parties.
What’s your opinion on this matter? Is the EFF “fighting the good fight” here? Or is this something we should waste time discussing and investigating? Let me know in the comments.
EFF updated its position on Google Sync and student tracking:
Google has promised not to build profiles on students or serve them ads only within Google Apps for Education services. When a student goes to a different Google service, however, and they’re still logged in under their educational account, Google associates their activity on that service with their educational account, and then serves them ads on at least some of those non-GAFE services based on that activity.
In other words, when a student logs into their educational account, and then uses Google News to create a report on current events, or researches history using Google Books, or has a geography lesson using Google Maps, or watches a science video on YouTube, Google tracks that activity and feeds it into an ad profile attached to the student’s educational account—even though Google knows that the person using that account is a student, and the account was created for educational purposes.
This is our biggest complaint about Google’s practices—that despite having promised not to track students, Google is abusing its position of power as a provider of some educational services to profit off of students’ data when they use other Google services—services that Google has arbitrarily decided don’t deserve any protection.
This post was updated to add EFF’s clarification.