Google has been tracking children’s personal information on their devices, even after the technology company signed a pledge specifically stating that it would not do so, according to a complaint filed Tuesday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Google's use of children's data is just one component in a larger discussion of how to define consumer rights in data collection and what level of responsibility technology companies should bear in protecting their data. The use of children's data has struck a particular chord because children are less likely to understand the implications of the personal information they reveal online.
The complaint is part of a broader “Spying on Students” campaign, which the EFF launched to raise awareness about the privacy risks associated with technology in schools.
Google is one of more than 200 companies that have signed the Student Privacy Pledge, a document that holds companies legally accountable for maintaining student privacy and preventing the unauthorized sale or misuse of their data. But the complaint that the EFF filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that Google went against its stated promise.
“Despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students’ browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company’s own purposes. Making such promises and failing to live up to them is a violation of FTC rules against unfair and deceptive business practices,” EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo said in a statement.
The data collected includes students’ browsing history and searches, YouTube videos, and password information.
Google collected this information using the “Sync” feature in the Chrome browser, the default browser of the popular Chromebooks used by many schools. The EFF complaint also maintains that Google was also able to collect student information by tracking students in their Google for Education accounts, and that this information could be shared with third parties using administrative settings.
“We commend schools for bringing technology into the classroom. Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education have enormous benefits for teaching and preparing students for the future. But devices and cloud services used in schools must, without compromise or loopholes, protect student privacy,” EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope said.
Google told the EFF that they would soon disable the Sync setting on distributed Chromebooks. Still, Google maintains that they are not doing anything wrong by collecting students’ data.
"Our services enable students everywhere to learn and keep their information private and secure," Google said in a statement.
As global interest in internet privacy has grown, the company regularly reaffirms its interest in maintaining the security of users’ personal information, but the EFF complaint is not the first to suggest less-than-ideal business practices at Google.
In 2012, Google paid a $22.5 million fine after the FTC concluded the technology company had created a loophole that allowed its suite of digital-advertising products to track users of Apple's Safari web browser.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.