Students being tracked by Google warn privacy advocates
Google's parent company Alphabet is believed to be tracking students' activities Reuters

Schoolchildren these days are perhaps more familiar with and adept at using Google as compared to their parents. Given that most public schools in the US are increasingly using the Mountain View-headquartered company's products, for most children Google is simply ubiquitous.

The technology giant provides its products to more than half the schools in the US. Some schools have reportedly made an alliance with Google allowing them free access to products and online services of the company. The catch, however, is that Google reportedly tracks online activities of students.

Collecting data logs of students allows Google to analyse their online behaviour and gauge which of its products are most popular with schoolchildren.

Hence, a leading privacy advocacy group has filed a complaint with federal officials claiming that this information provides the company with the knowledge on how best to sell targeted ads to increase product sales. Although, Google acknowledged that it collects data of students to improve the quality of products and services offered, its parent company Alphabet refuted criticism and maintained that its education apps comply with the law.

Since some schools have an arrangement with Google, neither teachers nor parents can protest against Google collecting data from students. Commenting on the lack of provision for privacy of schoolchildren, Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) claimed, "In some of the schools we've talked to parents about, there's literally no ability to say, 'no'."

Most schools opt to buy products like Chromebooks from Google as they are cost effective and are made available with free software tools. In comparison, laptops are more expensive and require the added expense of installing necessary software programs.

Chromebooks are available for purchase between $100 (£67, €91) and $200, a fraction of the price of a MacBook and the former's software is free for schools. Meanwhile, Google also claimed that overall, the company's programs are used by more than 50 million students and teachers around the world.

However, EFF cautioned school administrators of Google collecting student data. There are some concerns about whether the data is used for other purposes apart from providing educational services. Nonetheless, most privacy advocates state that there is no real way of knowing how much data about students' activities is actually collected by the company.

Jonathan Rochelle, director of Google Apps for Education wrote in a blog post: "We have always been firmly committed to keeping student information private and secure."

The current laws concerning student data privacy date back to 1970s and school administrations do not have to seek written consent from parents before sharing information about their child's online activity with companies.