Franken: Google should make student data collection ‘opt in’

Franken: Google should make student data collection ‘opt in’
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Any student data collected through Google’s suite of educational products should be “opt in” by default, according to Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenShould the Rob Porter outcome set the standard? Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees Sen. Gillibrand, eyeing 2020 bid, rankles some Democrats MORE

The privacy-minded senator on Tuesday commended Google's cooperation in responding last week to a long list of questions about the company’s educational offerings. But the Minnesota Democrat still wants more details. 

Specifically, he wants more information about what Google is doing with the student information collected and whether the default could be no data collection. Instead, students would have to “opt in” if Google wanted to collect the information. 

“Google has done great work in education technology, but I wanted to make sure the company is doing everything it can to protect the privacy of our students,” Franken said in a statement.

Google for Education provides laptops and a suite of educational and class-management tools, including Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Drive, for high schools and elementary schools.

Google does not use the data collected for advertising, but last year the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) accused the company of using it outside the scope of a student privacy pledge it previously signed. 

In Google’s response to Franken, the company said it collects things like IP address, student names and email addresses when a student uses the educational products. But that information is necessary to provide the service, according to Google.  

Google collects additional information when a student uses services outside the educational suite, like Google Maps or search. The company said it treats that as a student’s personal information as well. 

However, it can use data collected through those other services to improve and develop its products. 

When asked whether it could make collection opt in, Google said it already gives schools control over what students can use and requires parental consent for Google’s collection of data on minors. 

Last year, the EFF also accused the company of automatically enabling a feature on student Chromebooks, called Chrome Sync, that 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 information. 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." 

If that data is associated with a student’s account, Google said “we consider this data to be the student’s personal information and do not use it to target ads.”