Technology giant Google is known for its popular search engine, software, and longtime motto: “Don’t be evil”. In public classrooms across the country, the corporate name that is fast becoming as common is Google.
Laptops or tablets purchased by U.S. schools in the third quarter were Chromebooks, cheap laptops that run Google software. Besides its famed Web search, the company freely offers word processing and other software to schools. In total, Google programs are used by more than 50 million students and teachers around the world.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit privacy watchdog organization, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission this month accusing Google. Said that “Sync” data feature on the Google Chrome enabled by default on Chromebooks, allows Google to track, store and data-mine for non-advertising purposes like letting users port their browsing history, passwords and other personalized features. The complaint also alleges that the Google Apps for Education service (GAFE) violates the Student Privacy Pledge.
The authors of the student privacy pledge, an industry-backed think tank called the Future of Privacy Forum, came to Google’s defense saying that the EFF’s accusations went too far.
The privacy advocates say the complaint should be a wake-up call not just to Google, but to other companies handling student data.
In response to the complaint, Director of Google Apps for Education, Jonathan Rochelle, wrote in a blog post: “While we appreciate the EFF’s focus on student data privacy, we are confident that our tools comply with both the law and our promises”. Jonathan Rochelle also stated that students’ personal data in GAFE accounts is only used so that students can communicate each other through email and collaborate on assignments using Google Docs. “Sync” data feature is only used to help Google enhance their services, he said.