Google Tracks Students and School Kids via Chromebooks

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed an official complaint against Google with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), accusing the Mountain View-based search giant of secretly tracking minors


A few years ago, Google made arrangements with various educational institutes, agreeing to loan or provide Chromebooks at lower prices for its collaborators.

Chromebooks are custom-built laptops that come preinstalled with the company's innovative ChromeOS operating system.

While Chromebooks have been extremely well received in schools and universities across the US thanks to their incredibly low prices, EFF says that Google never followed through with the Student Privacy Pledge.

The Student Privacy Pledge is an agreement signed by over 200 companies to safeguard student privacy, and not track, use, or sell data from school kids and students.

Chromebook default settings allow Google to track students

The EFF says that default settings in Google's Chromebook laptops allow the company to track student activity. The main culprit is the "Sync" feature in the Google Chrome browser, which allows students to sync browser history, tabs, settings, and extensions, by storing user-specific configurations and data on Google's servers.

EFF analysts say this feature is turned on by default on all Chromebooks, and Google is logging all this data, despite the Student Privacy Pledge, and without getting permission from the student or his parents to do so.

Because the Student Privacy Pledge is a legally enforceable document, EFF has now appealed the FTC to help the Foundation enforce this agreement.

Some GAFE services are also helping Google track users

EFF's investigation also extended to Google Apps for Education (GAFE), a set of cloud services used in schools and universities. The Foundation says that while Google has stopped automatically scanning Gmail accounts offered through this service, Google has still been serving ads, which can be used to track students. Gmail account scanning is an automated process, where Google scans the content of emails, so it can learn about users and serve them better ads.

Google responded to the EFF, saying it will turn the Sync feature off in Chromebooks, but apparently the Foundation is not satisfied with this answer and wants a stronger resolution from the search giant.


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