Yesterday it was revealed that a privacy group (EFF) had a filed a complaint with the FTC claiming that Google “deceptively tracks students’ internet browsing”. Specifically, the group claims that Google is breaching a Student Privacy Pledge that it signed in January. One issue with Chrome OS in particular is Chrome Sync, a feature which enables users to have the same bookmarks, logins and other data across various devices with the Chrome Browser installed. As you would expect, it didn’t take long for Google to deny claims of wrongdoing…
Jonathan Rochelle, Director of Google Apps for Education took to the official Google for Education blog to explain and defend his company’s practices, claiming that that Google’s goal is to make sure teachers and students have access to affordable, powerful and simple tools without compromising their privacy.
While we appreciate the EFF’s focus on student data privacy, we are confident that our tools comply with both the law and our promises, including the Student Privacy Pledge, which we signed earlier this year.
Seemingly, Google isn’t the only one who disagrees with EFF’s translation of the privacy pledge and the manner in which Google allegedly breaches it. Both the Future of Privacy Forum and The Software and Information Industry Association (two co-authors of the pledge) have joined Google in criticizing the EFF’s interpretation. Rochelle also detailed the specifics on how each of the supposed infringing features aren’t breaking any code or pledge.
Chrome Sync was a big focus point. As we know, it works by having a user signed in to Chrome using their personal/work/education account across multiple devices. For students in particular, it means they can get to work right away on any Chromebook, as long as they sign in. Everything is set up the way they want it.
Personally-identifiable Chrome Sync data in GAFE accounts is 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. In addition, our systems compile data aggregated from millions of users of Chrome Sync and, after completely removing information about individual users, we use this data to holistically improve the services we provide.
What’s more, Google states that it’s careful about which ads it shows to GAFE users. In Search, students don’t see any ads at all when they’re signed in to their Apps for Education accounts. Even in YouTube, ads don’t use personal information or browsing history to target ads.
It’s a familiar argument. Google gives the example of broken web pages. For instance, if millions of people visit a webpage that’s broken, Google can use that anonymous, identity-stripped information to push the web page lower down the search rankings without looking in to who exactly accessed that page. It’ll interesting to see how far this goes. Whether Google will be forced to defend its practices in court, or remove one of its most-useful Chrome features for Apps accounts is yet to be seen.