Privacy campaigners the Electronic Frontier Foundation have filed a formal complaint with the FTC, claiming that Google “deceptively tracks students’ Internet browsing.” They say that Google is in breach of the Student Privacy Pledge the search giant signed back in January. Once Google signed, the terms became legally binding on the company.

The EFF says that one issue is with Chrome Sync, a feature designed to enable users to work with the same bookmarks, logins and other data across devices. Chrome Sync is currently switched on by default on Chromebooks sold to schools, and the EFF says that Google collects this data and uses it for other purposes … 

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Google responded by promising to disable this setting on school machines, but the EFF says this doesn’t go far enough as the company is able to collect similar data when students are signed in to Google Apps for Education.

However, the WSJ reports that the EFF’s claims are not supported by the organization responsible for the pledge.

Jules Polonetsky, co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum, which created the Student Privacy Pledge, said Google was not violating the document because it used aggregated and anonymized data.

“Anonymous information uses are not covered by the pledge or any other laws around student data,” he added.

The EFF argues that the data collected is associated with individual student accounts at the time it is collected, and that Google is still using private data even when it does so in anonymized and aggregated form.

Student privacy is a hot-button issue for obvious reasons, notes the WSJ.

Over the last year, 15 states have passed laws protecting the privacy of student data, including student email addresses and browsing behavior, according to a report from the non-profit Data Quality Campaign. A Student Privacy Bill of Rights that is endorsed by the Obama administration is pending in Congress.

Photo: Andy Colwell/Erie Times-News

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