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Google Is Developing Dossiers on Students Using Their Classroom Products, Disclosures Show

Last week when I wrote about Google’s plans for spying in our homes, many commented how simple it would be to avoid the company’s peering eyes by just not buying Google products. But that’s not possible for millions of students in K-12 who are required to use Google products in their classrooms. And based on recent disclosures, Google is using their position to develop dossiers on students.

Last year almost 20 percent of all K-12 students were required to use Google Chromebooks, and more than 30 million students, teachers, and administrators used Google’s G Suite for Education. The inexpensive laptop and powerful software have become a very cost-effective solution for schools to teach computer and other skills and to communicate with the students and parents. Kids can submit their homework, take tests. check grades, and collaborate with others using these Google products.

According to an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) report, these Google products also provide an opportunity for Google, the schools, and other software makers to collect students’ personal data. Essentially the products are Trojan horses used by Google to boost their advertising business.

EFF found that many schools don’t provide a written disclosure about data collection or pay much attention to the terms of privacy, and most don’t offer an alternative for the students to opt out. What that means is that students have even less protection than adults do from Google, and Google has taken advantage of the laxity, building profiles and dossiers on the students, and using them for advertising, market research, and other purposes

In numerous lawsuits, Google has admitted to doing this, including scanning and indexing student email messages and directing advertising to YouTube users under 13 years of age.

Google also acknowledged that it collects a wide range of personal information from student users who log in through its educational software. But it’s not only Google. In its survey EFF found other software companies are also collecting students' personal data when students use their products.

  • Evernote maintains copies of information on the service’s back-up server for up to a year after a user has requested that the data be deleted.
  • For Haiku Learning, the schools, rather than individual students, retain the authority and ability to delete information from the application.
  • Lexia Learning requires that students and parents contact the school administrator to facilitate requests to access, change, or delete personal information. Absent a request from a school administrator, Lexia retains the information for as long as the account is active or as needed for Lexia to provide services.
  • Storyboard retains student data for up to four years of inactivity.

Many other companies capture personal information from students, including eScholar, Interactive Health Technologies (see below for a response from IHT) Khan Academy, Knewton, LearnBoost, LearnSprout, Moodle and Panorama Education.