Privacy groups across the world have criticized Google over privacy concerns. This time, American parents are concerned Google is collecting data of their children through its suite of education apps.
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit organization with a mission to “defend civil liberties in the digital world,” filed a complaint against Google with Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The EFF accuses Google of collecting and mining private information of school children.
In a recent post, the EFF claims Google is violating privacy norms under “K-12 School Service Provider Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy.” The privacy pledge requires service providers to “not collect, maintain, use or share student personal information beyond that needed for authorized educational/school purposes, or as authorized by the parent/student.”
According to a CNBC report, the Google Chromebook accounts for over half of all devices sold in US classrooms. Schools use Chromebook for Google Apps for Education (GAFE), which includes Google Classroom, a “blended learning platform that allows assignments to be created, distributed, and graded digitally.”
EFF’s claims that Google tracks personal information when students use “non-educational” services like search, Google Maps and Youtube. Google forces students to create an account to use Chromebook – so their information also gets stored in Google servers due to the automatically enabled “Sync” mechanism.
While EFF has taken the fight to Google, it mentions that school authorities are also at fault. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires schools to take an explicit consent of parents for sharing student data. EFF claims many schools are not following this.
In response, Jonathan Rochelle, Director of Google Apps for Education said that Google has always been “firmly committed to keeping student information private and secure.” Rochelle further clarified that student data from GAFE core services was not used for advertising purpose. User data from Chrome-sync was used to personalise features for the user alone, Rochelle said. Only non-identifiable data, Rochelle says, was used in an aggregated manner to improve the overall quality of Google services. Google also maintains that schools can choose to allow or deny access to non-educational Google services.