Google is neither benevolent nor evil: My reaction to the EFF Complaint

I have become increasingly interested in the way in which we are aware of the "trackers" and other data collection is happening through javascript and other means. I have been utilizing Ghostery (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/ghostery/mlomiejdfkolichcflejclcbmpeaniij?hl=en) to determine which services are present on each webpage I visit and then choosing to turn them on or off. It is very interesting to look at the fact that the "trackers" in place on my public google account are far greater than those in place for my GAFE account. That transparency and knowledge can be a valuable tool in helping to dispel the FUD.
 
However, I do believe that we will find out, at least in part, that these accusations are true. When I look at the complaint, it boils down to two things:
 
First, the Google syncing services that allow information to transfer between computers allows for the data to be on Google Servers. This is a how the technology works. Without fundamentally changing how syncing happens (i.e., that it never touches Google servers), it would be impossible to get around this. The complaint is focused around what happens with the data while it is being synced. If it is being "mined" currently, I believe that Google will change that practice as they have adapted many others to better meet the needs of the education customers. I think it is far more likely that they have already thought this through and the GAFE account data is being synced in a "non-mined" container. Either way, the solution is likely to turn off Google Sync if you are worried about this issue. (Although the complaint does talk about how that doesn't solve the whole issue.)
 
Second, by allowing kids (and adults) to divulge additional information while signed in to their Google Apps account (i.e., location information) they are engaging in unsafe practices. This is 100% true. Sharing your location is a privacy concern for many and can easily be turned off within the Admin settings.
 
In fact, almost everything that is being alleged really boils down to the difference between a student/parent making the privacy decision and "The District" making the privacy decision. If your parents have concerns about privacy, talk about the Google Admin console and the settings that are most concerning. Making it transparent and allowing for folks to ask questions is the best way to tackle this. The privacy agreement is the first step, but the settings "choices" we make for ALL OF OUR STUDENTS matter and we need to inform ourselves about what each of them mean for our kids.
 
Google is neither entirely benevolent nor are they pure evil. They will make mistakes, and we will have to figure out how to deal with them. Sometimes I see these things as fear mongering, but this one is different. The EFF is a well respected organization and has made some valid points. It is up to us for interpreting them for our own context. I hope that makes sense.

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  1. Pingback: Student Privacy Complaint Against Google | PPS Education Technology

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