Google accused of secretly collecting students' data

Google accused of secretly collecting students' data
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A prominent privacy group is accusing Google of collecting and using the personal information of students contrary to a pledge it reluctantly signed earlier this year. 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a complaint on Tuesday with the Federal Trade Commission, asking the consumer protection agency to force Google to destroy the information and notify students about its collection practices. 

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The complaint deals with Google for Education, which provides laptops and a suite of educational and class-management tools for schools. 

Google does not use the information for advertising, but the EFF said the data is being used outside the scope of the pledge to improve its other products. 

The privacy group accused Google of collecting students' browsing and search history as well as other activity that takes place on its own products, like YouTube, when students are signed into their accounts. 

It also accused the company of automatically enabling a feature on student Chromebooks called Chrome Sync, which lets users store their account information in the cloud so they can easily switch between devices. 

The EFF says that allows the company to collect a student's entire Internet browsing history, bookmarks, extensions and other things, even if the feature is turned off by a student or parent, school administrators have ultimate control of the settings, according to the EFF. 

Google aggregates and anonymizes the data, but the EFF says it could still be violating the student privacy pledge because the company "uses the data for its own benefit, unrelated to authorized educational or school purposes." 

"We are confident that these tools comply with both the law and our promises," Google said in a statement, noting that it is focused on keeping students' data private and secure. 

The EFF talked with Google before the complaint went out and Google told the privacy group that "it will soon disable a setting on school Chromebooks that allows Chrome Sync data," according to the EFF. 

The student privacy agreement is a voluntary pledge signed by about 200 companies in the past year and endorsed by President Obama. Google initially resisted signing the pledge, maintaining that it had its own set of privacy policies, before coming around. 

News reports at the time noted the company is sometimes resistant to signing industry-wide pledges that can later be used against it during enforcement actions. The company had to pay $22.5 million in penalties to the FTC in 2011 for misrepresenting how it used tracking cookies on the Safari browser.