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Google Deceptively Tracks Student Browsing, EFF Says

(CN) - Google is deceptively collecting and mining the personal information of school children, including their internet searches, according to a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the request for a federal investigation and injunctive relief, said it uncovered the practice while researching its "Spying on Students" campaign, which launched Monday.

In a written statement, the foudnation said the campaign was created to raise awareness about the privacy risks of school-supplied electronic devices and software.

In crafting it, the organization says it looked closely at Google's Chromebook and Google Apps for Education, a suite of educational cloud-based software programs it says are used in many schools across the country by students as young as seven years old.

In its complaint, the foundation claims Google is violating the "K-12 School Service Provider Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy," of which it is a signatory, in three ways.

"First, when students are logged in to their Google for Education accounts, student personal information in the form of data about their use of non educational Google services is collected, maintained, and used by Google for its own benefit, unrelated to authorized educational or school purposes," the complaint says.

"Second, the 'Chrome Sync' feature of Google's Chrome browser is turned on by default on all Google Chromebook laptops - including those sold to schools as part of Google for Education - thereby enabling Google to collect and use students' entire browsing history and other data for its own benefit, unrelated to authorized educational or school purposes," the complaint continues. "And third, Google for Education's Administrative settings, which enable a school administrator to control settings for all program Chromebooks, allow administrators to choose settings that share student personal information with Google and third-party websites in violation of the Student Privacy Pledge."

"In light of the Pledge, Google's unauthorized collection, maintenance, use and sharing of student personal information beyond what is needed for education, constitutes unfair or deceptive acts or practices in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act," the foundation said.

"Despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students' browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company's own purposes," said Nat Cardozo, a staff attorney for the foundation, in a statement.

"Making such promises and failing to live up to them is a violation of FTC rules against unfair and deceptive business practices," Cardozo said.

"Minors shouldn't be tracked or used as guinea pigs, with their data treated as a profit center. If Google wants to use students' data to 'improve Google products,' then it needs to get express consent from parents," he added.

Google rejected the allegations in a statement it released late Tuesday,

"Our services enable students everywhere to learn and keep their information private and secure," the Internet giant said. "While we appreciate EFF's focus on student privacy, we are confident that these tools comply with both the law and our promises, including the Student Privacy Pledge."

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