Google Under Fire for Data-Mining Student Email Messages

There is an excellent article in Education Week that I highly recommend for anyone with children in K - 12. I would quote it extensively, but I do not want to do anything to discourage you from reading the rather lengthy write-up. Therefore, I will just make a couple of observations on the subject matter in general:

First, Google's education initiative has nothing to do with education. As with everything Google touches, the kids who use the Chromebooks are not the customers, nor are the schools that purchase them. The only customer Google ever has is the advertisers. The K - 12 students are the products being sold. The only reason Google has an education initiative is to exploit your child's personal data to sell to the highest bidders. 

Google is actively data-mining the heck out of your children. There is a good chance that the profile of your child Google is building with this information will follow her for the rest of her life. Everything written in an email or calendar such as confidential medical information is fair game to Google. Anything entered into one of their services is propagated to all other services Google touches. Your child is thoroughly mined and tracked by Google on behalf of their real clients: the people who will one day sell them cigarettes. 

Second, Google preys on the most vulnerable. Chromebooks are cheap to free for schools. The schools that cannot afford a more secure solution have no choice but to go with Google's offerings. All of Google's offerings come with strings firmly attached. Education administrators are selling your child's privacy for inexpensive access to technology. 

It's a bad trade that parents are ill-equipped to understand. Parents need to be made aware of the longterm dangers of dealing with this particular devil lest they find themselves on the plaintiff's side of a lawsuit against Google. Unfortunately, by the time it comes to that, it will already be too late. 

The lawsuit discussed in the article seeks, in part, to force Google to be more transparent about what information they are mining from students, and to what use that data is being put. One Google spokesperson says that no such mining is happening, while another not only admits to the data mining for advertising, but vigorously defends the practice. 

I would remind you that when Apple sells iPads or MacBooks to schools, they do not have any such strings attached. Neither Apple nor Microsoft perceive the sales relationship as an exchange of cheap products for the ongoing access to valuable, exploitable personal data. I have no problem when individuals choose to make use of Google products and services as consenting adult. But I most definitely have a problem when such products and services are but a thinly disguised Trojan horse for exploiting the most innocent among us. The linked article is long, but worth the read.

David Johnson