July 19, 2019

Google denies claims it broke child-data promises

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By Nina Mulamba

Google has denied it broke its promises on using children’s personal data.

Civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) accused Google of collecting and storing data from children using its products at school and therefore asked the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate.

In a complaint filed with the authorities earlier this week, the EFF said Chrome books supplied to schools as part of its Google Apps for Education (GAFE) project came with a feature designed to synchronize the Chrome browser across devices, which transferred students’ data without permission.

The group alleged Google used the information “for its own purposes such as improving Google products”, as well as to target adverts on GAFE’s non-core apps, such as Chrome and YouTube.

The complaint said that the data collected included “records of every internet site student’s visit, every search term they use, the results they click on, videos they look for and watch on YouTube, and their saved passwords”.

The suite’s core apps are:

Gmail

Drive

Calendar

Sites

Google however said it used the data only to improve its products and services and not to target adverts, in line with its commitments.

“There are no ads in these core services, and student data in these services is not used for advertising purposes.” Said Google.

Student privacy

In a blog post on Wednesday, Google said

“personally identifiable” data collected was only “used to power features in Chrome for that person, for example allowing students to access their own browsing data and settings, securely, across devices”.

Google added that their systems compile data aggregated from millions of users of Chrome Sync and, after completely removing information about individual users; they use this data to holistically improve the services we provide.

“For example, if data shows that millions of people are visiting a webpage that is broken, that site would be moved lower in the search results. This is not connected to any specific person nor is it used to analyze student behaviors.”

Google denied the EFF’s allegation that the practice was not in line with its commitment to the Student Privacy Pledge, which prohibits it from misusing children’s data.

The pledge was co-written by the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software and Information Industry Association, and Google said both organizations’ had “criticized EFF’s interpretation of the pledge and their complaint”.

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