According to AdAge (and based on a letter from Senator Franken)…
Sen. Al Franken (D.-Minn.) has released a letter he wrote to Google CEO Sundar Pichai to express concern about how the company is collecting and sharing the data of K-12 students who use its Google for Education technology products. According to a statement released by the senator’s office, “Sen. Franken said he is concerned that, as a result of this data collection, Google may be able to create detailed profiles of students and ultimately target them for advertising or use the profiles for other non-educational purposes.”
One of the big sticky wickets is shifting the types of interactions students have with Google education products versus non-education products such as Google Maps or YouTube. Senator Franken has asked Google to answer a series of questions before Feb 12…
1. When a student is signed in to their GAFE account but is not using one of the GAFE services, what kind of data does Google collect on an individual student?
2. When a student is using a Chromebook but is not using one of the GAFE services, what kind of data does Google collect on an individual student?
3. If Google does collect any individualized data on a student, such as browsing information or viewing habits, when a student is using a Chromebook or is logged in to their GAFE account but is not using one of GAFE services, please address the following questions:
a. For what purposes does Google collect this information?
b. Is it necessary to collect all of this information for the provision of GAFE services or to deliver other valuable features that may be relevant for educational purposes?
c. Has Google ever used this kind of data to target ads to students in Google services, either in the GAFE services or other Google services, such as Google Search, Google News, Google Books, Google Maps, Blogger, or YouTube?
d. Has Google ever used this kind of data for its own business purposes, unrelated to the provision of Google’s educational offerings
e. Is it possible to make this data collection opt-in?
f. Does Google share this information with additional parties?
4. Google has indicated that it compiles data aggregated from student users of Chrome Sync, anonymizes the data, and uses it to improve its services. Can you expand on how the aggregated information is treated? For example, does this include sharing the aggregated data with third parties for research purposes or otherwise?
5. Can you describe Google’s relationship with school districts and administrators that choose to use Google for Education products and services? Apart from publicly available privacy policies, does Google offer any explanation to parents, teachers, and education officials about how student information is collected and used?
6. Can you describe all the contexts and ways in which both school administrators and parents of students using Google for Education products and services have control over what data is being collected and how the data are being used?
I think these are great questions. Most parents do not fully understand how much privacy they give up themselves when they use free online tools (such as Google, Facebook or others) so are not in a strong position to decide for kids or even advise kids. Schools are so strapped for resources that they may be willing to give up too much too soon. And many educators are in the same position of parents – they don’t fully understand the implications. I am glad that others are stepping in and asking good questions.
It reminds me a little bit of soda machines in the schools debate or having brand name soda companies sponsor school activities. Do you do what makes sense financially or what might be best for health of the kids today and as habits are forming? I’m not saying we shouldn’t sell soda in schools or that Google shouldn’t continue to provide educational tools (and expect some compensation) just that we need to understand the full extent of the compensation.