When it comes to data collection from use of devices and programs considered “necessities” in today’s world, the all too common question is – what is this data really being used for? This question was posed in a very public way by Senator Al Franken, the chief Democrat in the US Senate’s Privacy, Technology, and Law Subcommittee, when he sent a letter to Google CEO last week asking for an explanation of Google’s use of data collected when students use its educational products.

The Google initiative, Google Apps for Education, provides elementary and high schools with laptops and educational programs such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive to help facilitate the learning process in a technology-driven world. Despite Google’s guarantee that it does not use the data collected from its devices or products for advertising, just last year the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) accused Google of using its collected information in a way that exceeded its promised scope. Now, Franken similarly challenges the use of this data, desiring details surrounding its use, and proposing a new default when it comes to Google’s data privacy settings. In place of Google’s current policy allowing interested users to restrict Google’s access to certain services, Franken suggests that the default be no data collection with an ability for users to opt-in if they so choose.

Google responded promptly to Franken’s letter, stressing that the information collected by these services is used solely to aid in its products’ continuous functioning and improvement. Nevertheless, Franken remains unsatisfied with Google’s failure to respond to his suggested policy and lack of explanation regarding information collected when students browse sites and use programs beyond those owned and operated by Google.

Unfortunately for Google and Franken, both parties have legitimate arguments in support of their respective positions. Google must continue to collect data in order to provide the most effective services possible and continuously improve them, something which is generally desired by users. On the other hand, individuals have a right to protect the information collected by their activities.  Users may argue that Google’s current-opt out policy results in failure by many interested users to follow through with opting out due to insufficient know-how or laziness. However, Franken’s proposed solution fails for the same reason – many who would be complicit in aiding Google’s initiative to improve functionality might fail to opt in, resulting in a smaller pool of data for Google than it possible could have collected. With legitimacy on both sides of the argument, a better compromise remains to be found.

Sarah Dotzel


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One Response to Google Collects Data from Student Users… For What?

  1. kgallardo says:

    This is an important issue, since Google for colleges (emails, docs, etc.) has become really popular to use. More transparency is necessary to reveal what exactly students’ information is being used and collected for.