Google illegally spying on kids claims EFF

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has moaned to the US watchdog the FTC claiming Google is collecting and data mining school children’s personal information, including their internet searches.

The EFF looked at Google’s Chromebook and Google Apps for Education (GAFE) which is a suite of educational cloud-based software programs used in many schools across the country by students as young as seven.

While Google does not use student data for targeted advertising within a subset of Google sites, EFF found that Google’s “Sync” feature for the Chrome browser is enabled by default on Chromebooks sold to schools.

This means that Google can track, store on its servers, and data mine for non-advertising purposes. It 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 claimed.

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.

EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo said that 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.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Google promised the EFF that 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.

While that is a small step in the right direction, it doesn’t go nearly far enough to correct the violations of the Student Privacy Pledge currently inherent in Chromebooks being distributed to schools.