Electronic Frontier Foundation files complaint against Google after group claims it has uncovered evidence the search giant collects student personal data
An Internet rights group has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US after it allegedly found evidence to suggest Google is collecting and data mining the personal information of school children who use Google’s services.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said that it uncovered Google’s practice whilst researching its ‘Spying on Students’ campaign, which launched this week.
The EFF claims that Google educational products, notably its Chromebook and Google Apps for Education services, are scooping up data of their users, which include some children as young as seven.
Google is officially not allowed to use student data for targeted advertising if the students are using Google educational products and services, but the EFF found that the search giant’s synchronisation feature for its Chrome browser is automatically enabled on Chromebooks which are sold to educational institutions, meaning that Google can track and store the records of every single student using Google using them.
“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,” said the EFF this week.
“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 said that whilst it commends schools for bringing technology into education, Chromebooks and Apps for Education used in schools must 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,” said EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope.
An extract from the complaint by the EFF to the FTC reads:
“Students generally use Chromebook laptops by first logging in to their Google accounts. Chrome Sync is a feature of the Chrome web browser and included on Chromebooks that allows users to store information about the browser and their online sessions in the “cloud”.
“In correspondence between EFF and Google, Google has acknowledged that it collects, maintains, and uses student information via Chrome.
“Google has also committed deceptive acts or practices by publically signing onto the Student Privacy Pledge, promoting its signatory status on its website, and then not adhering to the commitments outlined in the Pledge.”
Response from the FTC is pending.