In response to a complaint by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google has said in a blog post that it is not invading the privacy of students by using Chromebooks to spy on them.
The complaint was filed on Tuesday with the Federal Trade Commission, with the foundation suggesting a probe into Google for reportedly breaking its own privacy commitments. According to the complaint, Google collects and shares students' personal information in violation with the Student Privacy Pledge, which was signed by Google back in January.
"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," said Jonathan Rochelle, Director of Google Apps for Education, in a blog post. "The co-authors of the Student Privacy Pledge, The Future of Privacy Forum and The Software and Information Industry Association have both criticized EFF's interpretation of the Pledge and their complaint."
Google has stressed its privacy settings a lot of late, especially in coming under fire from the likes of Apple, its main rival when it comes to devices for education. The EFF, however, stands by its claims, with its argument hinging on two of Google's practices.
The first such practice is how students log in to their account. Students can use a range of apps that Google has built for schools. These apps are tracked anonymously, like any other Google service. If, however, a student switches to another service like YouTube or Maps, which are not built specifically for students, they are tracked, and that information, according to the EFF, is shared with advertisers.
The second practice is that Google's Chrome browser in Chromebooks uses something called Chrome Sync, which, by default, tracks a user's browser history. Both Google and the EFF acknowledge that this is anonymous, and Google would suggest that this information is helpful for the development of classroom products. The EFF counters by saying that the feature is built so that Google can use the information for non-educational reasons. The EFF does admit that Chome Sync could be a useful feature, however, it also says that students shouldn't be the subject of Google's information collection for the development of products.
It's not yet known if the FTC will take action on the EFF's claims.
Photo: Kevin Jarrett | Flickr