In a statement issued December 1st, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an organization devoted to protecting the digital rights of internet users, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Google for allegedly using data collected from the computers of students using either Google-provided computers or Google Apps for Education. The information collected by google included browser history, and the Google services that allowed for this tracking are used by students up to seven years old, according to the EFF.
Beyond the obvious disruption of privacy that this accusation proposes, the tracking of data on students’ computers would violate the Student Privacy Pledge, an online document that Google (among others) claimed to follow. The Student Privacy Pledge states that, among other restrictions, “Not collect, maintain, use or share student personal information beyond that needed for authorized educational/school purposes, or as authorized by the parent/student.” Considering the fact that the EFF filed this complaint so recently while the tracking itself has supposedly been going on for some time, it seems that this information is more than is needed for educational purposes—after all, what does someone’s browser history have to do with their education?
Now two years after the leaking of documents that show the extensiveness of the NSA’s mass surveillance, invasions of privacy such as this seem increasingly egregious. The tracking evidently goes beyond simple use on a Google-provided school computer—a student’s account, according to the EFF, could be tracked anywhere they are logged in, regardless of who made the device and whether or not the student is accessing the internet for educational purposes.
Google has responded by stating that the tracking tools within their software not only comply with laws and Google’s policies, but also can be disabled by the educator. In addition, the composers of the Student Privacy Pledge have both come forth and stated that the complaint, after some evaluation, cannot be found to have any merit.