Google has been accused of deceptively tracking students' internet browsing through school-supplied electronic devices for data collection purposes. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) launched a Spying on Students campaign in an effort to raise awareness of Google mining data without the permission of the students or their parents.
The campaign follows an investigation by EFF that found Google Apps for Education and Google Chromebook laptops that were used in schools were set to "Sync" by default, meaning that students' data is being stored on Google servers. The data collection is not used for advertising purposes, according to a complaint submitted by EFF to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Tuesday (1 December), instead it is used "to improve Google products".
The complaint alleges that Google's violation of the Student Privacy Pledge is an Unfair or Deceptive Act or Practice under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.
"Despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students' browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company's own purposes," said EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozo. "Making such promises and failing to live up to them is a violation of FTC rules against unfair and deceptive business practices.
"Minors shouldn't be tracked or used as guinea pigs, with their data treated as a profit centre. If Google wants to use students' data to 'improve Google products,' then it needs to get express consent from parents."
Difficult for children to give consent
EFF reported in a press release that Google had said that it will soon be disabling the "Sync" feature, though this would still not prevent students' personal information being shared with third-party websites. At the time of publication, Google had not responded to a request for comment from IBTimes UK about the allegations.
It is not the first time that Google has been accused of mining the data of students through its educational suite of tools. In 2014 a lawsuit was filed against the California-based company for improperly scanning private emails.
"It's harder for children to give consent than adults and even harder when the tools they are given to use are given to them by education departments and schools," Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, told IBTimes UK at the time. "Young people from the UK and Europe are being asked to sign up for US services without being told how they might be using and collecting their information."
In response, Google reversed its policy of scanning student accounts for the purpose of targetted advertising.
The full FTC complaint from EFF can be found below.
UPDATE (4.30PM BST, 2.12.15): A statement from Google was sent to IBTimes UK regarding EFF's complaint. A spokesperson said: "Our services enable students everywhere to learn and keep their information private and secure. While we appreciate EFF's focus on student privacy, we are confident that these tools comply with both the law and our promises, including the Student Privacy Pledge."