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Google fends off EFF's claims kids probed by Chromebook software

Apps for Education won't follow your offspring, says ad giant

Google has fired back at allegations that Chromebooks running its education software spy on children in classrooms and push adverts.

"Our goal is to ensure teachers and students everywhere have access to powerful, affordable, and easy-to-use tools for teaching, learning, and working together," said Jonathan Rochelle, director of Google Apps for Education. "We have always been firmly committed to keeping student information private and secure."

Earlier this week the Electronic Frontier Foundation claimed, in a submission to the US Federal Trade Commission, that Google Apps for Education (GAFE), and in particular the Chrome Sync features, were being used to collect the browsing and search habits of the nation's schoolchildren.

"Minors shouldn't be tracked or used as guinea pigs," EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozo said.

But according to Rochelle, the EFF has its facts wrong. The data collected by GAFE was to enable students to log into their accounts, and none of it is used to build advertising profiles, he said.

As for Chrome Sync, Rochelle explained that information such as web histories and website visits is only stored to allow students to access their accounts across a wide range of devices. There's no behavioral analysis, and no data on specific individuals is collected.

"We use this data to holistically improve the services we provide," he said. "For example, if data shows that millions of people are visiting a webpage that is broken, that site would be moved lower in the search results."

In any case, Chrome Sync is an option, he pointed out, and it's up to schools whether they allow it or not. Sync is turned on by default, but it's easy to shut down.

All of this leaves the EFF's "Spying on students" campaign looking a little deflated. But the group says it still has concerns that if students sign onto personal Google accounts while still in their educational accounts, it's possible that could be used to serve up adverts. ®

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