Google accused by EFF of mining data from schoolkids’ Chromebooks

2 Dec 2015

Google’s practices fly in the face of commitments made when it signed the Student Privacy Pledge, the EFF says

Internet giant Google has been accused by the Electronic Frontier Federation (EFF) of collecting and mining schoolchildren’s personal information via Chromebook and Google Apps for Education.

The digital rights campaigners have filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission against Google.

Revealed as part of a new “Spying on Students” campaign by the EFF, it was found that while Google does not use student data for targeted advertising, the “Sync” feature for Chrome browser is enabled by default on Chromebooks sold to schools.

This, the EFF claims, allows Google to track, store data on its servers and data mine for non-advertising purposes every internet site students visit, every search term they use, saved passwords, results they click on and videos they search on YouTube.

EFF says Google didn’t seek 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.

It said the situation flies in the face of commitments Google 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.

Parental consent necessary, Google warned

“Despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students’ browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company’s own purposes. Making such promises and failing to live up to them is a violation of FTC rules against unfair and deceptive business practices,” said EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozo.

“Minors shouldn’t be tracked or used as guinea pigs, with their data treated as a profit centre. If Google wants to use students’ data to ‘improve Google products,’ then it needs to get express consent from parents.”

The EFF said that Google said it will soon disable a setting on school Chromebooks that allows Chrome Sync data, such as browsing history, to be shared with other Google services.

However, the EFF said this doesn’t go nearly far enough to correct the violations of the Student Privacy Pledge currently inherent in Chromebooks being distributed to schools.

Schoolkids computing image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years