imageWhether for e-books or specialized K-12 apps, Google’s Chromebooks can often be cost-effective alternatives to iPads.

But could we be paying another price—in student privacy?

I read with interest Paul’s report on an Illinois school district mandating a Chromebook for every student in the classroom. I have been following the news of Google’s education initiatives for some time, and I find that one issue Google has shied away from really addressing is student privacy.

Those who think this is an overblown concern should check out the excellent guide the Electronic Frontier Foundation has produced for parents of Chrome-using students. Among the settings that it suggests you disable are ‘auto-sync’ for apps, extensions, bookmarks, browser history and other things; ‘automatically report details of possible security incidents to Google’ and ‘allow any site to track your physical location.’

And this Re/Code article has more:

“Jeff W., worried that his 9-year-old daughter would be tracked online, contacted the EFF after his daughter’s school began mandating the use of Chromebooks in the classroom. His concerns only grew when the district created a Google account for his daughter that included her real name and date of birth. The complaint was a tipping point for the digital rights group, which had received numerous inquiries from other parents concerned about the use of Chromebooks and other technologies in the classroom.”

I think this is going to be the next big area of tech legislation. It’s useful for me to be able to, say, assign a reading level to a student and have their device automatically funnel appropriate books to them accordingly. It’s useful for me to be able to log in as the teacher and see which of the books they read, and which activities they completed (and to what degree of success) based on their reading. But who, besides me, has access to that data? And what happens to it after that student leaves my classroom? Do we automatically reset the system at the end of the school year to keep that student data private? Should that student be able to send that data with them to their next class, their next teacher, their next school? How do we ensure that this data does not get compromised while the student is under our care? And what remedies can we offer if it does?

It is not as simple as handing the student a device and saying there, here you go. We need to start examining these issues more critically.

Image credit: Here.

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. We should start out thinking about this with the realization that Google is no more an eleemosynary institution than Apple or Amazon or any other commercial entity. They all pursue profit albeit in different ways and with different levels of transparency.
    To me, Apple seems the more transparent. They sell you a hardware/software/services bundle and you pay for it with your money. That’s all there e is to it. It’s an easily seen and understood revenue source. Trying to see Google’s revenue sources and connect them with the proffered Chromebook is a bit more difficult. School decision makers have a vague idea that the quid pro quo in this case is “access to children” but they don’t know all of the specifics as to what that means and most don’t want to know.
    That’s not to say that school administrators are the true bad guys here. I reserve that label for the skinflint legislators who put schools in the position of having to exchange “access to children” for the tools with which to teach them or do without. Those same legislators set the standards of achievement that are used to determine the fate of both the children and their teachers. Mephisto himself couldn’t do better.
    So what can an innovative organization like Google do with “access to children?” Securing useful data without informed consent is bad enough but what about the inculcation of values, attitudes and beliefs? Could Google be commissioned to do such a thing and, if so, would they admit to it?
    Thus, you can start with this stem and build your very own horror story. Have fun everyone.

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