United States Senator Al Franken (D – MN) sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai Wednesday, questioning the company’s student data collection in regard to its education technology initiatives.
The letter comes after an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) report in early December claiming that Google deceptively tracks students using its Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and other services and products. Google, for its part, responded to the complaint by essentially saying that concerns were overblown and that it wasn’t doing anything shady.
This apparently didn’t satisfy Sen. Franken, as his list of questions is long and multifaceted. The letter can be read in full on Sen. Franken’s website, but here’s the list of questions that he’s requested be responded to by Feb. 12:
1. When a student is signed in to their GAFE account but is not using one of the GAFE services, what kind of data does Google collect on an individual student?
2. When a student is using a Chromebook but is not using one of the GAFE services, what kind of data does Google collect on an individual student?
3. If Google does collect any individualized data on a student, such as browsing information or viewing habits, when a student is using a Chromebook or is logged in to their GAFE account but is not using one of GAFE services, please address the following questions:
a. For what purposes does Google collect this information?
b. Is it necessary to collect all of this information for the provision of GAFE services or to deliver other valuable features that may be relevant for educational purposes?
c. Has Google ever used this kind of data to target ads to students in Google services, either in the GAFE services or other Google services, such as Google Search, Google News, Google Books, Google Maps, Blogger, or YouTube?
d. Has Google ever used this kind of data for its own business purposes, unrelated to the provision of Google's educational offerings
e. Is it possible to make this data collection opt-in?
f. Does Google share this information with additional parties?
4. Google has indicated that it compiles data aggregated from student users of Chrome Sync, anonymizes the data, and uses it to improve its services. Can you expand on how the aggregated information is treated? For example, does this include sharing the aggregated data with third parties for research purposes or otherwise?
5. Can you describe Google's relationship with school districts and administrators that choose to use Google for Education products and services? Apart from publicly available privacy policies, does Google offer any explanation to parents, teachers, and education officials about how student information is collected and used?
6. Can you describe all the contexts and ways in which both school administrators and parents of students using Google for Education products and services have control over what data is being collected and how the data are being used?
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