Is Google Really Snooping on Students?

Nancy Anderson
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Industry experts generally acknowledge Google as the king of Internet search, especially as it relates to advertising revenue. When combined with data mining, this everyday action easily represents massive amounts of income for the online giant. However, its search functionality may soon lead the Web giant to facing legal trouble due to one of its educational initiatives.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued Google over its Google Apps for Education, or GAFE, program that allegedly mines data in a surreptitious way as children use this technology on a Google Chromebook computer. Enough parents complained that these programs use children's information to generate advertisements, so the EFF intervened.

In the case of Google search, students log into the Google app and search for information on websites not associated with the app. What the students don't realize is that Google maintains the login information outside of the app, saving the searches on the person's profile. This amounts to personal information and searches that Google shouldn't have access to, notes the EFF. Google then allegedly uses this information to generate relevant websites to use later in a child's research.

When schools sign up for the GAFE program, Google promises not to mine for data outside of the app. Yet many instances show students still logged in outside of the educational suite, something that is not supposed to occur.

To be fair, the EFF acknowledges Google searches outside of GAFE do not produce targeted advertising for Google sites based on student data within their profiles. However, the default setting that syncs the GAFE app to the Chromebook allows Google to store search information on its servers, and it keeps this abstract personal information for purposes other than advertising. The EFF complains this amounts to violating someone's privacy, and has filed a lawsuit with the Fair Trade Commission to stop the wayward data mining through Google searches.

The GAFE account monitors activity on YouTube, Google Documents, Hangouts and more Google services. The problem is that Google doesn't use information on profiles but takes Google searches and turns them into ads on some services, such as YouTube, outside the scope of the educational apps. The EFF alleges Google violates privacy because it doesn't obtain permission from students to mine this search information.

Google continually changes how users view online advertisements to try to earn more revenue. When users change their search habits, Google follows suit to try to increase conversions so it can sell more ads. When Google focuses and targets advertisements in more specific ways, it customizes ads for individuals. This could lead to problems with the GAFE program as Google may monitor the searching habits of children in school.

Though Google search represents a great way to find information, many believe the online leader has overstepped its boundaries in regards to the privacy of children in order to improve its search capabilities and make it easier for students to perform research. Nevertheless, the EFF lawsuit might soon force Google to change its approach to both data mining and education.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at



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