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Google Acknowledges It Collects Student Information, but Doesn't Target Ads

Google has consistently maintained it respects student privacy.


Google acknowledges it collects information about students when they’re visiting Google-owned sites such as YouTube or services like Google Maps — but says it doesn’t use this personal data to target advertising.

The company provided details of its privacy practices in response to an inquiry from Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who had expressed concern that Google may be collecting students’ personal data for non-educational purposes without parents’ knowledge or consent.

Google has consistently maintained it keeps student data private when students are using the company’s education software — known as Google Apps for Education — and Chromebook computers, which are widely used in classrooms. Its practices attracted scrutiny when the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing Google of collecting and using personal student information for non-education purposes in violation of its K-12 Student Privacy Pledge.

Susan Molinari, Google’s vice president of policy and government relations, wrote that the company collects such personal information as a student’s name and email address when they’re using education apps such as Gmail, Google Docs or Calendar. It doesn’t display ads within these services or use the data for advertising purposes, she wrote.

If the school permits a student to travel beyond the walled garden of Google’s education apps while still logged in to their student account, Google collects data as it would for any other user — keeping tabs on the device they’re using or personal information they volunteer. Since these users are logged into their student accounts, Google says it doesn’t use this personal information to target advertising.

Molinari said there’s “very little difference” in the data Google collects from its education apps and the data collected when they’re using a Chromebook.

Franken issued a statement lauding Google for its thoroughness, but continuing to express concerns about what Google does with the information it collects from students who are browsing the Web while logged in to its education services.

“I’m also still interested in whether or not Google can provide parents and students with stronger privacy protections — for example, by allowing students to ‘opt-in’ to data collection,” Franken said in a statement. “I plan to continue working with Google to clarify some of its policies, because it’s important for the privacy of our students.”

A Google spokesperson said the company would be happy to answer any of Franken’s questions.

Google says it uses the personal information it collects solely to provide its educational services. The schools are responsible for obtaining a parent’s consent and determining whether students have access to services such as Google Search, Earth, Maps or YouTube.

The company does not share personal information with third parties, except when schools ask Google to do so, Molinari wrote.

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