[UPDATED] Is Google Collecting Data On Schoolchildren For Ad Targeting?

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Is Google collecting data and browsing habits of schoolchildren to target ads to them? The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) says it is — even after promises that they wouldn’t. The EFF goes on to say that Google’s “Google for Education” program collects and stores data from participating students and Google is in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Communications Act.

UPDATED (12/02/2015: 4:00PM): Google for Education has responded with a blog post reiterating how their products work, and how they keep students’ data private and secure. A few key quotes from Jonathan Rochelle, Director of Google Apps for Education, appear below:

The GAFE Core Services — Gmail, Calendar, Classroom, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Contacts, Groups, Vault and Hangouts — are the heart of Google’s educational offering to schools. Students’ personal data in these Core Services is only used to provide the services themselves, so students can do things like communicate using email and collaborate on assignments using Google Docs. There are no ads in these Core Services, and student data in these services is not used for advertising purposes.

Personally-identifiable Chrome Sync data in GAFE accounts is only used to power features in Chrome for that person, for example allowing students to access their own browsing data and settings, securely, across devices.

Schools can control whether students or teachers can use additional Google consumer services — like YouTube, Maps, and Blogger — with their GAFE accounts. We are committed to ensuring that K-12 student personal information is not used to target ads in these services, and in some cases we show no ads at all. In Google Search, for example, we show no ads when students are logged in.

You can read the full post on the Google for Education blog.


The EFF has asked the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to investigate the matter.

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 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. 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.

“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 center. If Google wants to use students’ data to ‘improve Google products,’ then it needs to get express consent from parents.”

Google did acknowledge the setting the EFF refers to on their Chromebooks is enabled by default and is taking measures to deactivate them. But the EFF isn’t letting up and insists that Google has other means of tracking children through the “Google for Education” program. You can read the EFF’s entire blog post at the link below.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below, or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

  Source: EFF
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