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Google Education Electronic Frontier Foundation Privacy

Google Accused of Tracking School Kids After Promising Not To (cio.com) 131

itwbennett writes: In a complaint (PDF) filed Tuesday with the Federal Trade Commission, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) claims that "despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students' browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company's own purposes." The EFF says Google's practice of recording everything students do while they're logged into their Google accounts, regardless of the device or browser they're using, puts the company in breach of Section 5 of the Federal Communications Act.
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Google Accused of Tracking School Kids After Promising Not To

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @10:15AM (#51040619)

    Breach of protocol there, sorry, but I read TFA.

    This part seems kinda disturbing:

    some schools require students to use Chromebooks

    Why in the hell are schools requiring students to use Chromebooks? We're making people do business and give their personal deals to advertisers now? What's next, requiring Facebook?

    This also does something much more subtle but very harmful to our society: it gets kids used to the world where nothing they "own" is really theirs, where everything they do is subject to the whims of someone else. Control over their computing devices is held by a multinational, whether Google or Apple or whoever. Instead, we should be getting kids used to freedom, both the power and the responsibility that comes with it.

    • the alternative is microsoft's offerings. is it any better (i.e. respectful of users' privacy)? no.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @10:32AM (#51040719)

        The other alternatives are things like Linux and BSD. You know, devices beholden to their owners. As a side benefit, we might end up with more computer literate individuals instead of people who can't do anything more sophisticated than what someone else allowed a single mouse click to do.

        • by darkain ( 749283 )

          Chromebooks and Android are both Linux based. Just sayin. ;)

        • You know, devices beholden to their owners

          Kids are effectively forced to attend government-run schools and be subjected to government imposed curricula, and you worry about whether their devices run Linux or ChromeOS? You need to get your priorities straight.

        • by Pumpkin Tuna ( 1033058 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @02:56PM (#51043215)
          Sounds great! Are you going to come to my school district and help me teach the teachers and kids to do all of that? Are you going to help my network guys keep a network secure in which every kid is given the freedom tinker and hack into everything? Are you going to do all that work for free? Are you bringing friends? Look, I agree that we need more computer literate individuals, but we don't have that now and we don't have the money to do it. I would rather be able to give kids a cheap device they can use to do lots of cool, creative things and access a pretty good variety of materials on a network that stays safe and doesn't crash all the time. As the poster above said. Google and all the others need to improve their privacy, but for now, it's a trade off we in education have to live with.
      • It is a bit better in terms of privacy, since you can unplug a windows computer from the internet and it will still work.
        • by Tool Man ( 9826 )

          For now. Already, some apps expect network connections each and every time, so people get used to the idea that it's just a net-requiring device.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        "Why in the hell are schools requiring students to use Chromebooks?" Cost. Less technical problems than MacOS/Windows/Linux. Easy to collaborate with others, etc. And yes, I'm the IT guy for a school handing out Chromebooks. Two full time IT employees, 1500 students, 300 staff. Chromebooks just do the job well.
    • Why in the hell are schools requiring students to use Chromebooks?

      Hmm, the price maybe?

    • by Dzimas ( 547818 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @10:43AM (#51040819)

      Why in the hell are schools requiring students to use Chromebooks? We're making people do business and give their personal deals to advertisers now? What's next, requiring Facebook?

      Schools standardize on a single platform to make support simpler and to make sure that tools are available on every machine in the classroom. Typically, that means a computer cart loaded with several dozen laptops of some kind. Chromebooks have a distinct advantage for cash-strapped school boards in that they cost about $200 each, compared to five times as much for a cart filled with Macbook Airs. Chromebooks boot in well under 10 seconds, have batteries that will last a full school day, don't require complicated software installation and are immune to common PC viruses and trojans. Kids can use Sheets, Slides and Docs to create and edit school work without the school board having to pay significant licensing fees for an office suite. They save schools a fortune.

      At the end of the day, Microsoft and Apple also track and data mine their users. The core problem isn't that the Big Bad Google is data mining school kids, it's that everyone is doing it. And that needs to stop.

      • Microsoft and Apple also track and data mine their users

        Microsoft, yes. Apple, not so much. And in OS X, what "data mining" is on by default is easily turned off.

        • Or so you would like to think. Ever look at Little Snitch logs? Unless you spend a lot of time turning things off, OS X sure sends a lot of info back home to the Mothership.

          • Or so you would like to think. Ever look at Little Snitch logs? Unless you spend a lot of time turning things off, OS X sure sends a lot of info back home to the Mothership.

            I think I said that you had to turn off some stuff that was on by default. And if you consider 10 minutes or so "a lot of time", I think you are exaggerating about the time it takes to turn off that data collection in OS X.

            But at least Apple makes it easy to do that, and, unlike certain other OSes, doesn't hide the fact [apple.com] that they collect certain info, what is collected, whether it is anonymized, how long it is kept, what it is used for, who they share it with, what they do when the Gummint comes knocking,

            • by KGIII ( 973947 )

              Speaking of which, it may not seem like it but summer break is fast approaching and that's the refresh time or, in this case, probably an "addition to." I'm thinking I can probably get them the 2015 13" MBP for a steal if I time it right and do so just prior to or right after the 2016 release.

              • Speaking of which, it may not seem like it but summer break is fast approaching and that's the refresh time or, in this case, probably an "addition to." I'm thinking I can probably get them the 2015 13" MBP for a steal if I time it right and do so just prior to or right after the 2016 release.

                Well, Apple just upgraded the MacBook Pros a few weeks ago; so I would think that any "clear out the old stuff" discounts would have already happened.

                If you want, PM me, and I will try to help you with what you are looking for. For example, do you really need MacBook PROs for kids? Would the plain "non-pro" MacBooks or MacBook Airs make more sense? The only thing that would bother me about the new (non-pro) MacBooks would be that damnable USB-C connector. I DO think that kids would REALLY like to be able

                • by KGIII ( 973947 )

                  I woulda PMed ya but, ya know... Slashdot doesn't have that feature. ;-) That's why I pointed to my email address a while back. You don't have an email address publicly associated with your account either.

                  • I woulda PMed ya but, ya know... Slashdot doesn't have that feature. ;-) That's why I pointed to my email address a while back. You don't have an email address publicly associated with your account either.

                    Oh, I figured you still had my gmail addr since we conversed over that a few weeks ago. I will try to dig up one of those threads and email you.

      • I don't think schools are paying a 'significant licensing fee' for an office suite no matter which suite they use.

        Is there an office suite that is NOT free for students/schools?

      • On point! Chromebooks have finally allowed us to get devices in the hands of kids on a regular basis. As an education technology guy, I am FINALLY seeing kids have access to do cool projects and get information that goes beyond their textbooks.
      • by Lennie ( 16154 )

        I believe schools don't pay 200 bucks per device.

        Google has a lease plan for these devices, which means no cost upfront and when one breaks they'll send you a new one.

    • this is the first actual proof of evilness in my mind. Others were dubious but this is a bright line they just crossed. Just changed my mail address over to apple, and my browser to duckduck.

    • Is this your first interaction with government forcing third party interaction on people? I mean some areas mandate
      (and have for a long time) vaccinations else no public schools or similar services. The PPACA (obamacare) mandates that you get health insurance from a third party. Before that, there was/is the mandatory age in which you have to start drawing your social security benefits
      (even if you are wealthy enough to not need them and think the system would be more solvent if they kept them).

      Now the inte

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        Taking social security benefits is not mandatory. Just don't apply for them. Tada! Consult a lawyer. I have.

    • and Chromebooks and iThings are in fashion and are tracking kids, obviously. Where I work (secondary ed), people mandate children create gmail accounts and whatnot with no thought whatsoever to what that means.

      This is not surprising at all and I'm glad that I support the EFF.

    • Why in the hell are schools requiring students to use Chromebooks? We're making people do business and give their personal deals to advertisers now? What's next, requiring Facebook?

      Yes. Google+ actually, but schools are requiring class assignments using google docs for collaborative work.

    • Yeah, totally agree. I refuse to use Win 10 because all of the spying Microsoft included there but for these kids that would be completely normal
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @10:18AM (#51040645)

    You should also take a damn close look at Android 6 privacy features. The new feature that lets users turn off rights to GPS, camera etc. for apps after installation.

    On the face of it it sounds good, but the way they've done it is absolutely the opposite:

    It lets an app install first, then demand priviledges as it goes along. It *tells* the app you are refusing it access to the camera or mic or address book, or location, or SMS's etc. So the app can slowly sucker you in Facebook style demanding more and more privileges to run as it has more and more leverage over you. You mid conversation a messaging app can demand access to your address book to let you finish the conversation, and Google's Android 6 will tell it if you refuse.

    Google Player Services, aka Google's spyware* gets a free ride and its spyware can't be turned off. This service tracks location and even if you disable all Google services they continue to get the information. That is just the tip of the iceberg as to what that tracks.

    Other similar features in other Android distributions, return empty data to the app, so it might demand access to the camera, but the camera data it gets is a noise image, and it might demand your address book, but it gets an empty address book instead if you refuse it access. So the app cannot know it has been refused access to the data and cannot leverage that to force you to give it access.

    * Seriously take a good look at what that 'play' store is sending to Google, it helps itself to everything, and requests location even when the phone is on standby.

    They are a privacy disaster and where the fook are the regulator?

    • by Gizan ( 3984275 )
      Is CM its called Privacy Guard, you can clock access to any permission for any app.
    • Google Player Services, aka Google's spyware* gets a free ride and its spyware can't be turned off. This service tracks location and even if you disable all Google services they continue to get the information.

      Cite? You absolutely can disable permissions for Google Play services, and my team (Android security) would consider it a severe bug if Play services could work around those permission blocks.

      That is just the tip of the iceberg as to what that tracks.

      Again, cite?

      Other similar features in other Android distributions, return empty data to the app, so it might demand access to the camera, but the camera data it gets is a noise image, and it might demand your address book, but it gets an empty address book instead if you refuse it access. So the app cannot know it has been refused access to the data and cannot leverage that to force you to give it access.

      Sure it can. Lying to apps would just create an arms race between the OS's attempts to hide the fact that users had blocked some permission and the app's attempts to determine it. That's not an issue with other distributions because the numbers are so small that apps don't bother. Better just to be up front

  • by Anonymous Coward

    once Pandora's box has been opened.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @10:27AM (#51040691) Journal
    They simply can't help themselves. The youngest have the longest terms as prospective data producers.

    There's probably an algorithm for projected income from the mined data versus likely fines for breach of conduct.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... to maximize profits.

  • If google just changes their name to facebook then everyone will say it's fine and dandy. The problem here is just that people used to expect google not to do this kind of thing, while facebook started off explicitly designed to do this kind of thing.
    • True, nobody seems to have a problem with Facebook encouraging millions of kids to like about their age to sign up for accounts, so Facebook can go ahead and collect data on them and still have positive deniability: "But, they SAID they were over 13!" How many millions of times do you think Facebook has violated COPPA?
  • "Who's that hiding in my kid's closet with handcuffs and a gunnysack? Molester Joe! You silly-billy! When I hired you to babysit my kids, you promised you weren't going to try to kidnap them! You even signed a contract to that effect!

    "Well, it's my fault, really--I knew you wouldn't be able to resist. All right, but this is your second strike. Five more strikes and I'll have to report it. Now get outta here, you scamp!"

  • once upon a time on slashdot you'd get modded troll for even hinting that google might actually be capable of evil. good times.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    With ipads and chromebooks everywhere, why aren't kids getting any smarter?

    • they only give a fuck about their phones. It's rare to see a kid in the hall at my school who isn't completely absorbed by a glowing rectangle zombie walking down the hall as slow as possible with ear buds in.

  • "Don't be evil... unless, you know, being evil is profitable, and you don't think anyone will notice, then go for it!"
  • ... to our yearly revenues.

  • by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @12:59PM (#51042035)

    EFF found that Google’s “Sync” feature for the Chrome browser is enabled by default on Chromebooks sold to schools. This allows Google to track, store on its servers, and data mine for [...] Despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students’ browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company’s own purposes

    Google syncs student data to their servers, including web searches, because Chromebooks back up everything to the cloud. If you back up your Windows machine to the cloud, you back up your search history as well. Nothing in the EFF's press release suggests that they have shown that Google does anything more than this, let alone "mines" that data or "uses it for the company's own purposes".

    • Is there any evidence that Google *doesn't* mine the synced data?
      • Is there any evidence that Google *doesn't* mine the synced data?

        What sort of evidence would you accept? Note that the consent decree Google signed with the FTC requires that Google submit to regular privacy audits. But I'm guessing that doesn't reassure you, so I'm curious as to what would.

        (Note: I work for Google so I'm not commenting on the EFF's allegations and won't respond to any discussion that gets close to them.)

    • Exactly. The great thing about Chromebooks in education is that students don't have to use the same device every time. Their desktop, apps, favorites and history follow them around depending on which device they are logged in on. It's a freaking feature, not a bug.
      • You realize these are features available in plain Linux, right? All of that can be done without ever leaving the LAN/WAN. The point is all of that data goes to a place YOU DONT CONTROL when there is no need to do that.
        • It could be, but the school system happens to have chosen Chromebooks and cloud services, and that means that the data goes to Google. You may feel that Chromebooks are the wrong product for schools, but that's not Google's fault; you have to take that up with the school administrators.

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