Google’s Takeover in the Classroom

Education Week published an article this week about how Google has taken over the classroom over the last five years. This raises student data privacy concerns.

If you’re seeing Google reign in your child’s classroom, Matthew Lynch writes there are three reasons why.

  1. Google devices are cheaper. Lynch writes, “Instead of laptops and tablets that were priced outside of what most schools could afford, Google presented the cheaper Chromebook that came complete with a host of free apps for students and teachers.”
  2. Google Apps makes it easier for students to create and share information. Anyone can get a free account, but they also offer paid services at a special price point for schools. Lynch writes, “Students can create a variety of documents through the Google Docs platform and make their content available to share with others in real-time. The sharing extends not just to classmates, but also to educators who can keep better tabs on what their students are doing and learning on any given day.”
  3. Teachers can be more involved with Google. Lynch writes, “The Google Admin panel allows educators to be more involved in what their students are doing on their Chromebooks. They can monitor controls, upgrade software, enroll new students, and otherwise manage the devices handed out to their class with relative ease. Teachers are firmly in control of what their students can and cannot do on their Chromebooks, an attribute that grows increasingly rarer with all of the modern inventions in technology.”

Read his whole article here.

I can attest to Google apps being a useful tool, I use them myself. I’ve been able to play around with Chromebooks (I currently use a MacBook Pro). I also teach government for a local homeschooling co-op, and often students will send me papers using Google Docs.

Even though they offer useful and inexpensive tools with Google’s assent in the classroom there are obvious data privacy concerns.

Joseph Turow, a communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote for Fortune:

At the very start, the marketing giant hits you with the deal: By giving up information you allow the company “to show you more relevant search results and ads, to help you connect with people or to make sharing with others quicker and easier.”

Yet it’s not really a fair trade. Most people have little understanding of what they’re actually agreeing to give up. A 2015 national survey my colleagues and I conducted showed that Americans don’t buy the tradeoff idea. It also revealed that 58% of Americans are resigned to what’s taking place. They don’t want companies like Google to have control over their data, but they’ve come to believe they don’t have a choice.

The implications of this are profound. Google’s activities may affect the ads you get, the deals you are exposed to, the purchases you make, the discounts you receive, the entertainment and news you see, and your very sense that surveillance is natural. Plus, Google is only one of a gaggle of large companies involved in these sorts of activities—all the while seemingly hoping we don’t understand and are too resigned to push back.

Google in their privacy policy explains what kinds of data they collect:

Things you do

When you use our services — for example, do a search on Google, get directions on Google Maps, or watch a video on YouTube — we collect data to make these services work for you. This can include:

  • Things you search for
  • Websites you visit
  • Videos you watch
  • Ads you click on or tap
  • Your location
  • Device information
  • IP address and cookie data

Things you create

If you are signed in with your Google Account, we store and protect what you create using our services. This can include:

  • Emails you send and receive on Gmail
  • Contacts you add
  • Calendar events
  • Photos and videos you upload
  • Docs, Sheets, and Slides on Drive

Things that make you “you”

When you sign up for a Google account, we keep the basic information that you give us. This can include your:

  • Name
  • Email address and password
  • Birthday
  • Gender
  • Phone number
  • Country

This has me rethinking my use of Google. While any cloud-based service will store data, not everyone uses it.

While they state they do not sell it or give the federal government access to it, they do use it for advertising. They write:

We try to show you useful ads by using data collected from your devices, including your searches and location, websites and apps you have used, videos and ads you have seen, and personal information you have given us, such as your age range, gender, and topics of interest.

If you are signed in and depending on your Ads Settings, this data informs the ads you see across your devices. So if you visit a travel website on your computer at work, you might see ads about airfares to Paris on your phone later that night.

Advertisers only pay for the ads that are clicked, so its up to Google to entice you. They explain what data is used for ads.

We want to help you better understand the data that is being used to show you ads. Why This Ad is a feature that allows you to click a prompt in order to learn why you are seeing a given ad. For example, you might be seeing that ad for a dress because you have been visiting fashion websites. Or if you see an ad for a restaurant, you may discover it is because of your location. This type of data helps us show you ads about things you might find useful. But remember, we never share this data with advertisers.

Now how does their policies differ for school-owned devices? I doubt it does.

If your student uses Google Apps or a Google Chromebook, the Electronic Frontier Foundation offers a privacy guide for parents for students who use Google Apps or who use a Google Chromebook.

Update: I was challenged by a teacher who provided a link to Google’s education privacy policy, Google says that they do not serve ads or use personal information collected in their education core services. Fair enough, I should have so here it is below. There is an important caveat here: “G Suite for Education users may have access to other Google services.”  In that case, the overall privacy policy applies.

In G Suite for Education Core Services

The G Suite for Education Core Services (“Core Services”) are listed in the Services Summary and include Gmail, Calendar, Classroom, Contacts, Drive, Docs, Forms, Groups, Sheets, Sites, Slides, Talk/Hangouts, Vault, and Chrome Sync. These services are provided to a school under its G Suite for Education agreement and, as applicable, Data Processing Amendment. (Users and parents can ask their school if it has accepted the Data Processing Amendment.)

User personal information collected in the Core Services is used only to provide the Core Services. Google does not serve ads in the Core Services or use personal information collected in the Core Services for advertising purposes.

In Google services generally

Besides the Core Services, G Suite for Education users may have access to other Google services that we make generally available for consumers, such as Google Maps, Blogger, and YouTube. We call these “Additional Services” since they are outside of the Core Services.

The Google Privacy Policy describes fully how Google services generally use information, including for G Suite for Education users. To summarize, we use the information we collect from all of our services to provide, maintain, protect and improve them, to develop new ones, and to protect Google and our users. We also use this information to offer users tailored content, such as more relevant search results. We may combine personal information from one service with information, including personal information, from other Google services.

Google may serve ads to G Suite for Education users in the Additional Services. For G Suite for Education users in primary and secondary (K-12) schools, Google does not use any user personal information (or any information associated with a G Suite for Education Account) to target ads, whether in Core Services or other Google services accessed while using a G Suite for Education account.

Here is their policy for information sharing:

Information we collect may be shared outside of Google in limited circumstances. We do not share personal information with companies, organizations and individuals outside of Google unless one of the following circumstances applies:

  • With user consent. We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google when we have user consent or parents’ consent (as applicable).
  • With G Suite for Education administrators. G Suite for Education administrators have access to information stored in the Google Accounts of users in that school or domain.
  • For external processing. We provide personal information to our affiliates or other trusted businesses or persons to process it for us, based on our instructions and in compliance with our Privacy Policy and any other appropriate confidentiality and security measures.
  • For legal reasons. We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google if we have a good-faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of the information is reasonably necessary to:
    • meet any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request.
    • enforce applicable Terms of Service, including investigation of potential violations.
    • detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues.
    • protect against harm to the rights, property or safety of Google, our users or the public as required or permitted by law.

They also have a section on parental review and deletion of the student’s information:

The parents of G Suite for Education users in Primary/Secondary (K-12) schools can access their child’s personal information or request that it be deleted through the school administrator. School administrators can provide for parental access and deletion of personal information consistent with the functionality of our services. If a parent wishes to stop any further collection or use of the child’s information, the parent can request that the administrator use the service controls available to them to limit the child’s access to features or services, or delete the child’s account entirely. Guidance for administrators on how to use service controls to accomplish this is available in the G Suite Help Center.

4 thoughts on “Google’s Takeover in the Classroom

  1. Rather than saying you doubt Google’s privacy policy for school devices is different than their basic one why wouldn’t you actually look, especially after taking the so much time writing the rest of your opinion piece? The answer is of course…Yes the privacy policy is different. As an educator you should already have been familiar with this in my opinion:
    https://edu.google.com/k-12-solutions/privacy-security/?modal_active=none

    For whatever reason you seem to be promoting scare tactics in an effort to introduce Fear, Distrust, and Uncertainty of Google’s Chromebooks for Education. Surely that was not your intent.

    1. I looked it up and shared pertinent information.

      I generally distrust any education tech and I think student privacy guidelines are very weak. I was happy to learn that ads are not served in G-Suite for Education and that they do not use information collected there for ads. Students, however, are likely not to just use those Google services.

      I understand that it is a useful tool (like I said in my article, I use Google apps myself), but parents do need to be diligent about their student’s data privacy. Thanks for reaching out.

  2. We are being naive if we believe that data mining is only being used for advertising purposes. The greater value of such information is it’s usefulness for political power and control.

  3. I have concerns about the use of YouTube and the Google search engine in the classroom with regards to information censoring problems. For example, conservative PragerU has now had to file a lawsuit against YouTube (Google) because they continue to censor PragerU’s videos. This is outrageous. Other conservative sites have been reporting the same censorship problems as well. I would imagine this is a threat to school children who may not possibly be getting all the information necessary to develop real 21st century critical thinking skills.

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