Are Governor Malloy’s new Google Chromebooks data mining our kids?

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“Google explicitly admits for the first time that it scans the email of Google Apps for Education users for ad-serving purposes even when ad serving is turned off.” – Safegov.org 1/31/14

Late last year, Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Commissioner Stefan Pryor, like governors and education commissioner across the country, proudly announced that they were charging an additional $24 million to the state’s credit card to buy computers and expand internet capabilities so that Connecticut’s public school students could take the inappropriate and absurd Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test.

Much of the money is being used to purchase Google’s Chromebooks.

The wild cheering could be heard across Connecticut.

For example, from Bridgeport’s came the news;

“Superintendent Paul G. Vallas today announced that Chromebooks for every student have been installed in Bridgeport high schools as the district completes its citywide technology upgrade. The upgrade includes 5,220 new Google Chromebooks to ensure every high school student has laptop access… Additionally, Google Apps for Education accounts are now available for all teachers and staff in order to fully operationalize the benefits of using online technology in the classroom.”

From Farmington came the report;

A grant of $350,000 from the state will help implement the state’s new computerized smarter change assessment.  The money will be used for getting computers and wireless Internet access in all schools.”

And from Cheshire the announcement;

The Cheshire Board of Education will use a $202,575 technology grant funds from the State Department of Education to purchase laptop computers for 7th and 8th grade students to support our work in transitioning to the Common Core State Standards and SMARTER Balanced (SBAC) assessments.”

[…]

“All seventh and eighth grade students will receive Chromebooks to use throughout the school day in order to access the learning resources, Google Drive, and the Internet as needed in every class.”

But as Malloy, Pryor and their corporate education reform industry allies high-five each other for a job well done, there is new and extremely disturbing news from SafeGov.org, a “forum for IT providers and leading industry experts dedicated to promoting trusted and responsible cloud computing solutions for the public sector.”

The January 31, 2014 headline from SafeGov.org read;

Google admits data mining student emails in its free education apps

Take a look at what these industry experts discovered.

“When it introduced a new privacy policy designed to improve its ability to target users with ads based on data mining of their online activities, Google said the policy didn’t apply to students using Google Apps for Education. But recent court filings by Google’s lawyers in a California class action lawsuit against Gmail data mining tell a different story: Google now admits that it does data mine student emails for ad-targeting purposes outside of school, even when ad serving in school is turned off, and its controversial consumer privacy policy does apply to Google Apps for Education.

This issue has come to the fore as companies like Google and Microsoft have launched a worldwide race to introduce their web application suites into as many schools as possible.

[…]

While Google pledges not to serve ads to students without schools’ permission, its Google Apps suite, which is a repurposed version of Google’s Gmail and other consumer services, was designed from the ground up to include ad-serving as well as highly sophisticated user profiling and data mining capabilities. Google explicitly offers schools the option of enabling ad serving to student users of Google Apps for Education. Although it does not yet offer to share the resulting ad revenues with schools that choose the ad-serving option, it has clearly left the door open to such revenue sharing in the future. Indeed, it is hard to see why Google would explicitly write the ad-serving option into its standard contract with schools if it did not hope one day to make ads for students a default and perhaps even mandatory feature of Apps for Education.

[…]

The uncanny power of Google’s data mining and user profiling algorithms to target ads effectively has made it the world’s largest advertising company. To cite just one data point, the Mountain View giant last year generated more ad revenue in the American market than the entire U.S. newspaper industry. While we take Google’s word that it does not serve ads to its student users unless it has permission from schools, an important question that until now has gone unanswered is whether the targeting algorithms that power Gmail are still running in Google Apps for Education even when ad serving is turned off. Google’s own web site once supplied an explicit and quite satisfactory answer to this question. Specifically, in a FAQ on its web site devoted to Google Apps for Education, the firm promised that:

‘If you are using Google Apps (free edition), email is scanned so we can display contextually relevant advertising in some circumstances. Note that there is no ad-related scanning or processing in Google Apps for Education or Business with ads disabled.’

However, at some point during the past year the crucial second sentence in this statement was deleted from Google’s web site.

In a remarkable pretrial document filed by Google’s lawyers, Google explicitly admits for the first time that it scans the email of Google Apps for Education users for ad-serving purposes even when ad serving is turned off. The issue at stake in the case is whether Google has properly informed its users and obtained their consent for data mining and ad serving in Gmail and, by extension, in Google Apps for Education. In the filing in question Google’s lawyers seek to prove that email users must have consented to Google’s email scanning practices – if only “impliedly” – because these practices have been widely discussed in the press and can thus be considered to be universally known. The lawyers seek to establish this point by supplying a long list of published articles that discuss these practices.

In other words, Google’s own lawyers here confirm in a sworn public court declaration that even when ad serving is turned off in Google Apps for Education, the contents of users’ emails are still being scanned by Google in order to target ads at those same users when they use the web outside of Google Apps (for example, when watching a YouTube video, conducting a Google search, or viewing a web page that contains a Google+ or DoubleClick cookie).

In sum, then, we have learned from Google’s own statements that:

  • Ad serving remains a standard option in Google Apps for Education, 
  • Even when ads are turned off (as they currently are by default) Google still data mines student emails for ad targeting purposes, and 
  • Google’s consumer privacy policy is incorporated in standard Google Apps for Education contracts.

Considering governors all across the nation are picking up the tab for all the new Google Chromebooks, perhaps the could force Google to come clean about exactly how much data mining they are doing when it comes to our public school students.

Getting the truth from Google is certainly the least Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor can do in Connecticut considering the damage they have done by opening up the Pandora’s Box known as the Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Test (SBAC).

You can read the full safegov.org article at: http://safegov.org/2014/1/31/google-admits-data-mining-student-emails-in-its-free-education-apps

  • [email protected]

    Metadata is just that… a dangerous non-existing “average” or statistical midpoint, a norm for a mass socirty, that is created by intruding on the individuality and privacy of human beings. If misused, it damages the credit scores of millions of Americans, ruins their chances of obtaining private health insurance, excludes Americans from jobs if their credit scores or the data acquisition based health scores are too low or even indicative of buying too often from fast food chains. That daily cup of coffee for $1 from Macdonalds can haunt you for years even if it is good for your overall health. Metadata cannot distinguish a dollar coffee from a dollar cheeseburger. It just says one frequents fast food joints. I was against our public schools tracking medical statistics for each child for just this reason; once the data are in the public domain, it cannot be retracted, even if inaccurate. There is no way to make corrections. This is a road to folly. The USA has succeeded because we are a superpower made up of little towns and big cities who have not treated our citizens as “mass workers.” Now we are in danger of doing just that to ourselves and enriching the companies who engage. Kruschev if he could would be chortling… those who followed him already are. I am not. I am with those who say, wait, stop, and think. These are our posterity we put at risk from data intrusion.

  • Mary Gallucci

    I can’t stand all this technology in the classroom. It is totally unnecessary in learning to read, write, and do math.
    Students supposedly like it–I guess it’s better than NO books… it’s also possible to play games and do lots of things when teacher’s back is turned.

    I can’t wait for the fiasco in coming years… many of the “smart” high-tech classrooms at the state’s flagship university are experiencing problems with hardware, software, and internet access; the CSUs report problems with their platform on a regular basis. Now K-12 schools seem to be moving to heavy dependence on technology. You heard it here first, folks–the “Tech Cliff” is on the horizon.

  • Mom In Cheshire

    I blogged about my fear of Google last month: http://commoncoreinct.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-technology-factor-in-common-core.html

    I hate now reading that my fears are warranted.

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  • Lee Barrios

    This news backs up the obvious fact that requiring PARCC and SBAC testing to be on line was assurance that schools would have to incur the incredible expense of ramping up technology so that every student would be on line and that schools could then be sold personalized learning software giving further data mining capabilities. This latest trend of slowing down implementation of these tests is in part to mitigate the pushback of parents who now realize that CCSS is bad news. But it has been a fairly easy “concession” to make because it will also allow schools that are having difficulty meeting the minimum tech requirements to do so. Then ultimately whether CCSS is dumped or not, the technology will be there, schools will purchase the “personalized learning” etc software and the data will be easy to come by. CCSS was not an end but a means to an end? Haven’t we always known that every piece of reform is all about the money?

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