Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Google after EFF discovered through its “Spying on Students” campaign that Google had been collecting and mining data from schoolchildren’s personal information and Internet browsing.
The campaign was created to raise awareness among students and their parents about the privacy risks associated with school-supplied electronic and software devices. Because Google Apps for Education (GAPE), a set of educational cloud-based software programs, and Google’s Chromebook are used by many schools, they became a target of this campaign. EFF found out that in the Chromebooks Google sold to the schools, the “sync” feature was on by default. This allowed Google to have access to and store the record of every Internet site the student visited, search queries typed, the result they chose on the SERP, videos they looked for and watched on YouTube, and their saved passwords. Although this information wasn’t used by Google for advertisements, Google infringed upon students’ privacy by doing this without the student’s or their parents’ 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,” said EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo.
Google immediately responded and told EFF that it will soon disable a setting on school Chromebooks that allows Chrome data syncing. EFF commends the schools for bringing technology to the classrooms and even acknowledges the many benefits it brings; however, the schools must also be wary of protecting their students’ privacy. They must, according to EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope, protect students’ privacy without compromise or loopholes. Due to this breach of students’ privacy, EFF is calling on the FTC to investigate Google, stop the company from using students’ personal information for its own purposes and delete all the data it has gathered from the Chromebooks that automatically synced and stored students’ data.
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