Google denies EFF claims that it spies on student data in the classroom

After a public accusation of collecting and using student data from students, Google reiterated its policies on data privacy and has backing from co-authors of the Student Privacy Pledge.
Written by Kevin Tofel, Contributor

After the Electronic Frontier Foundation publicly accused Google of invading student's privacy on Chromebooks in the classroom, the search giant is responding with a resounding "no we don't" message.

On its Google For Education Blog, Google reiterated its long-standing policies on the matter, which have been publicly available for some time.

Google is also quite clear, saying "Google Apps for Education services do not collect or use student data for advertising purposes or create advertising profiles."

That runs counter to the EFF's claims when it took Google to task earlier this week. Indeed, Google notes that both co-authors of the Student Privacy Pledge -the Future of Privacy Forum and The Software and Information Industry Association -- are a bit critical of the EFF's allegations. The former says the complaint "is without merit", while the latter notes the EFF has some "misunderstandings about the pledge", which Google agreed to sign last year.

To clarify Google's stance, it says that there are no ads in the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) Core Services, nor is student data in those services used for advertising purposes. The Core Services include Gmail, Calendar, Classroom, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Contacts, Groups, Vault and Hangouts.

One key Google app missing from the list is the company's Chrome browser and the EFF focused on it in terms of privacy:

"[T]he 'Chrome Sync' feature of Google's Chrome browser is turned on by default on all Google Chromebook laptops - including those sold to schools as part of Google for Education - thereby enabling Google to collect and use students' entire browsing history and other data for its own benefit, unrelated to authorized educational or school purposes."

Google doesn't deny that Chrome Sync is part of the Chromebook experience, either in the classroom or outside of it.


Instead, it notes that the feature helps students quickly get at their data, settings, and preferences; useful in situations where Chromebooks are shared, for example. And it says that Chrome Sync data for GAFE users isn't used to target ads to individual students.

The whole issue is a bit of the slippery slope. You can't really have useful cloud services without personal information in the cloud. Effectively, the only way Google could guarantee total privacy in its services would be not to offer them in the first place, which of course, isn't reasonable.

All Google can do is publicly share its policies and explain how it uses -- if it does at all -- any student data through the GAFE program. It's done so before and reiterated those policies again.

Will that be enough to appease the EFF and concerned parents?

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