Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
Woman with digital headset sensor connected to her ear, reading brain impulses
Woman with digital headset sensor connected to her ear, reading brain impulses

Google is collecting data on schoolkids

Some say it’s okay because the firm supplies a lot of free software and hardware to schools

Michelle Malkin

Columnist Michelle Malkin has recently expressed concern about the fact that Silicon Valley uses educational programming to mine data about kids (“eduplundering”) which is available to third parties:

Parents, did you get notice before your child signed on to a Google account? In many districts, school information officers usurp your family authority and are logging on your sons and daughters en masse without your consent or knowledge. You don’t get to see the terms of service, the privacy policy or the G Suite agreement between Google and your school. Even if parents do receive notice before their kids are dragooned into G World, opt-out mechanisms are nonexistent or nearly impossible to navigate.

Springfield, Missouri, public schools employee and parent Brooke Henderson, along with her sister, Brette Hay (who is also a mom and educator), were horrified to discover that even if they logged out of their G Suite accounts, their personal passwords, bank account information, parents’ personal data, spouses’ sensitive data and children’s browsing habits were being stored on district-issued Google Drive accounts. Unbeknownst to the sisters, Google’s auto login and auto-sync functions allow the collection and archiving of non-education-related information across the extended family’s devices. Michelle Malkin, “Stop Google’s Kiddie Data Predators” at Townhall

Hype? Overreaction? Some insiders think so. They argue that it’s okay because Google pays for all that free educational software and hardware:

So on the one hand, yes the EFF [Electronic Frontier Foundation] might be correct to conclude that G Suite for Education is breaking the law. But if one telescopes out, their complaints sound largely tone deaf. Google already collects the data on searches made by minors outside of school. Any person in the U.S. who uses internet services is surveilled by not only the service provider, but also by the U.S. government.

An old adage states that if you aren’t paying for something, than you are the product being sold.

But compared to other companies competing with Google in the K-12 edtech market, G Suite for Education is far from the worst option. The fact that they consented to keep ads out of their education services is a victory. Henry Kronk, “Is G Suite for Education Mining Student Data? Does it Matter?” at ELearning Inside, November 9, 2017

Many parents may not be content to let matters rest there; they might prefer to pay taxes for school equipment and have less surveillance in our lives overall, especially considering Google’s involvement in government surveillance of citizens in China and concerns about violations of anti-trust laws in the United States.

Hmm. Freedom comes at a price. In saying “if you aren’t paying for something, than you are the product being sold,” Kronk is echoing Apple CEO Tim Cook, as quoted in George Gilder’s Life after Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy, “If the service is ‘free,’ you are not the customer but the product.”

It may come down to whether parents and other taxpayers are willing to pay for life after Google.

Note: A 2015 conference paper made the trend clear:

Abstract:While the field of educational data mining (EDM) has generated many innovations for improving educational software and student learning, the mining of student data has recently come under a great deal of scrutiny. Many stakeholder groups, including public officials, media outlets, and parents, have voiced concern over the privacy of student data and their efforts have garnered national attention. The momentum behind and scrutiny of student privacy has made it increasingly difficult for EDM applications to transition from academia to industry. Based on experience as academic researchers transitioning into industry, we present three primary areas of concern related to student privacy in practice: policy, corporate social responsibility, and public opinion. Our discussion will describe the key challenges faced within these categories, strategies for overcoming them, and ways in which the academic EDM community can support the adoption of innovative technologies in large-scale production. – Jennifer Sabourin, Lucy Kosturko, Clare FitzGerald, and Scott McQuiggan, Student Privacy and Educational Data Mining: Perspectives from Industry, Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Educational Data Mining, 26-29 June 2015, Madrid – Spain More.

See also: The true cost of free social media

Google is collecting data on schoolkids