Google, Why Are You Collecting Students’ Information?

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has received a letter from U.S. Senator Al Franken. In the letter, Franken asked for an explanation about what the company is doing with students’ private data, which it is collecting through their Chromebooks and Google Apps for education. The company has a deadline of Feb. 12 to respond.Google, Why Are You Collecting Students' Information?

Google violating pledge

Franken, who is the chief Democrat of the U.S. senate’s Privacy, Technology and Law Subcommittee, regularly sends such letters to tech companies whenever it comes across any legal issues troubling the public. There are concerns that the Internet firm is using the data for some non-educational usage and has not secured consent from parents for doing so.

In this case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accusing Google of violating the commitment it made to the Student Privacy Pledge, under which it is not supposed to collect, use or share student data except when it’s needed for educational purposes or has parents’ consent.

Google has not yet made use of the data collected for targeted ads, but the version of Chrome running on students Chromebooks has default settings that give the company access to browser history, search requests and more. The Internet firm did promise to change the settings, but the EFF is not satisfied, saying the company has added administrative settings that still shares data with third-party websites.

Good for Apple

Google, however, denies any wrongdoing. On Wednesday, in a statement to Re/code, the company said, “We have responded to the EFF in detail and we’re very happy to provide Senator Franken with more information.”

In December, the director of Google’s apps for education, Jonathan Rochelle, said, “While we appreciate the EFF’s focus on student data privacy, we are confident that our tools comply with both the law and our promises, including the Student Privacy Pledge, which we signed earlier this year.”

Apple is facing a serious threat from Chromebooks in the educational market. Google’s Chromebooks come with lower prices, keyboards and easier administration, making it tougher for Apple to sell its iPad. Apple has stricter rules regarding the collection of data and how to use it, and this could possibly attract some schools to it away from Google.