Is Google Tracking Student Data?

Google has been accused of collecting and data mining school children’s personal information, including their Internet searches.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this week, saying that the search engine giant tracks 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.

EFF said that it found Google’s tracking practice while researching its “Spying on Students” campaign, which is designed to raise awareness about the privacy risks of school-supplied electronic devices and software. The Foundation examined Google’s Chromebook and Google Apps for Education (GAFE), a suite of educational cloud-based software programs.

According to EFF, Google does not use student data for targeted advertising, but its Google’s Sync feature for the Chrome browser is enabled by default on Chromebooks sold to schools, allowing Google to track and monitor students’ online activities.

EFF said that Google doesn’t get permission from students or their parents. Since some schools require students to use Chromebooks, many parents are unable to prevent Google’s data collection.

“Google’s practices fly in the face of commitments made when it signed the Student Privacy Pledge, a legally enforceable document whereby companies promise to refrain from collecting, using, or sharing students’ personal information except when needed for legitimate educational purposes or if parents provide permission,” EFF said in a statement.

Google, according to EFF, will soon disable settings on school Chromebooks that allows Chrome Sync data to be shared with other Google services. However, EFF said that this step does not enough to correct the violations of the Student Privacy Pledge currently inherent in Chromebooks being distributed to schools.

Moreover, EFF also noted the administrative settings Google provides to schools allow student personal information to be shared with third-party websites in violation of the Student Privacy Pledge. The ability to collect and potentially share student information follows children whenever they use Chrome to log into their Google accounts, whether on a parents’ Apple iPad, friend’s smartphone or home computer.

“We commend schools for bringing technology into the classroom. Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education have enormous benefits for teaching and preparing students for the future. But devices and cloud services used in schools must, without compromise or loopholes, protect student privacy,” EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope stated.

“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.”