In a complaint filed yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Google for its alleged collection of personal data from school children using Google's Chromebooks in classrooms.
The civil liberties-focused non-profit EFF alleges that the data collected by Google for Education violates several terms of a Student Privacy Pledge signed by Google in January.
The EFF said it identified several questionable practices by Google while conducting research for its "Spying on Students" campaign, which launched yesterday. Designed to highlight privacy risks associated with the use of school-supplied software and electronic devices, the campaign found that -- while the company does not collect student data for advertising purposes -- Google uses its Chrome browser's "Sync" feature to track and mine data about students' browsing activities, search terms, YouTube viewing habits and saved passwords.
In a statement provided by a spokesperson, Google said that it is confident its education tools "comply with both the law and our promises, including the Student Privacy Pledge." The Future of Privacy Forum, one of the organizations behind the Student Privacy Pledge, also released a statement noting that it does not believe the EFF's complaint has merit.
EFF to FTC: Require Google to Destroy Data
Google's Sync feature is enabled by default on Chromebooks sold to schools. The feature enables Google to track, store on its servers -- as well as 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," the EFF stated. "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."
The EFF's complaint asks the FTC to investigate Google's privacy practices, enjoin the company from collecting and sharing such data in the future, and require Google to "destroy all student data so far collected, maintained, or used in violation of the Student Privacy Pledge."
Google has told the EFF that it will soon disable a setting on school Chromebooks that allows Sync data to be shared with Google's other services. However, the EFF said that action "doesn't go nearly far enough to correct the violations of the Student Privacy Pledge currently inherent in Chromebooks being distributed to schools."
A Late Signer to Privacy Pledge
The Student Privacy Pledge, launched in late 2014 by the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software & Information Industry Association, asks school service providers and other organizations working with students in kindergarten through 12th grade to commit to not selling student information or targeting students with behavioral advertising, and to be transparent about how they collect and use student data.
Apple and Microsoft were among some of the first companies to sign on to the Student Privacy Pledge, but Google did not become a signatory until January, although it had previously stated publicly that it supported the "substance" of the pledge's commitments.
In 2012, Google reached a $22.5 million settlement with the FTC after the agency found the company did not meet the advertising cookie opt-out commitments it made upon joining another self-regulatory initiative, the Network Advertising Initiative.
In the current case involving the Student Privacy Pledge, Future of Privacy Forum executive director Jules Polonetsky said he doesn't believe the EFF complaint is warranted.
"Since Chromebooks may be shared among students in school (with password-protected accounts for each student using that particular hardware device), many schools rely on Sync so that multiple students have ready access to their accounts and settings on the same device," Polonetsky said in a statement.
"We understand that any data collected is not used for behavioral advertising and all other data uses are aggregated and anonymous. The Chrome Sync setting is a general feature of all Chromebooks, whether purchased by schools or the general public," he added
Image credit: Google/Chrome; iStock/Artist's concept.
Posted: 2015-12-05 @ 10:32am PT
Whenever I see Google getting trashed, I look for Microsoft's fingerprints. Sure enough, a web search for "Microsoft Electronic Frontier Foundation" seems to reflect a cozy relationship.
Posted: 2015-12-05 @ 9:24am PT
So Google is using episodes of The Simpsons for new ideas now.
Posted: 2015-12-03 @ 5:59am PT
This data information should be destroyed immediately, instead of holding it for someone else to buy the info manipulate it.
Posted: 2015-12-03 @ 5:48am PT
Teachers and parents should be happy that SOMEONE is watching the internet habits of their children.
Posted: 2015-12-03 @ 5:43am PT
Wake up people, don't be so naive. Google is spying on everybody. This is nothing new.
Posted: 2015-12-03 @ 5:42am PT
Check the "permissions" required by many Android apps and realize how evil they are.
Posted: 2015-12-03 @ 5:37am PT
Isn't the Future of Privacy Forum funded by these same companies?
Posted: 2015-12-03 @ 5:17am PT