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Why is Google allowed to data-mine Students in Public Schools?

Decision makers who have agreed to the surveillance of their students by a private corporations are hesitant to talk about it.

When we talk about Google services we like to believe we are getting something for free, but really we are trading our students’ privacy for Googles’ services. Schools that knowingly trade student and staff privacy should recognize that this practice present major ethical and legal questions.

Schools must ask, how they can allow access for Google to put students under surveillance and condone the selling of their private behaviors to unidentified ‘third parties?’ We really need to ask, “How the child’s life will be affected by their school-sanctioned profiling and the ongoing modification of their behaviors?”
These question are not philosophical. By law schools teach students about The Canadian Constitution and the Canadian Charter or Rights and Freedoms. Reading the rules of various privacy legislations, one can suggest that sanctioned surveillance and foreign storage –which allows foreign governments access to private records under the Patriot Act – are illegal in Canadian schools. And so the question might actually be: Is it even legal for schools to accept the terms issued by Google?
The question of the legality of Schools using Google services and providing Google authorized access to the private behaviors and private documents of their students while in school and at home, has been fought in various courts in the United States. Though Google has been fined over a half billion dollars U.S. for their flagrant breaches of privacy laws, Google so far has not suffered for its privacy issues within the schools nor within the arena of public opinion. In any case, it is the schools that are found negligent in the proper protection of their students. Google has been able to defend itself because it states in its ‘terms of use’ that it does collect and use student information and that it shares this information with unidentified third parties.

Schools that have not done due diligence to understand the terms of the agreement have found themselves in violation of various privacy laws.

By NOT informing parents of the risks involved and of not gaining parental consent to the use of Google by their children it is the school who is held responsible for breaches of student privacy. Largely because of these privacy issues our Ministry of Education has produced guidelines that suggest school negotiate contracts with technology vendors, always inform parents of the risks, and obtain written consent from parents. But Google does not negotiate and consent is seldom sought.

Googles business model of gaining income from selling the private information of its users and using this information to alter their behaviors is not good for our students.

It is unfortunate that surveillance by technology has become somewhat normalized in our society. To use the services of Google and others is extremely easy, and sometimes the desire for things to be easy makes us ignore the harder questions. But it is the school’s responsibility to work to protect students. This protection must be done in practice and not simply by policy. Parents need to be informed that their whole family are under surveillance by Google when schools sign their daughters up to use Google for Education services. They should also be informed that the American government may receive information from Google about them, and also that their behavior is scrutinized for patterns that can be exploited for private profit and the modification of their ideological perspectives. As the American Senate is currently questioning Google and others as to their business models that allow them to create misinformation campaigns that are powerful enough to alter the course of monitory democracy, it should be clear that the scope of influence of the “do no evil” company is not beyond ethical scrutiny. Some actions are wrongful. The corporate surveillance and data-ming of children disguised as ‘free’ services is still the corporate surveillance and data-mining of children, and it is still wrong. Schools have a moral responsibility to remove themselves from complicity with such companies and practices.
When schools adopt a technological infrastructure they are ‘teaching’ students that the infrastructure is good and safe. When the infrastructure is made up of Google services, then Google is sanctioned as the ‘correct’ or ‘good’ and ‘safe’ technology for students to use.

By adopting Google services we are teaching students that their privacy isn’t worth the cost or effort of protecting; that our school openly supports the data-mining and profiling of young children, and agrees to the sharing of their privacy with various unidentified (and unidentifiable) “third parties.”

In essence they are learning that their rights to privacy and freedom of thought are not their rights. This is not a lesson that public education can support.
In the recent past I have asked various people working as Teachers, Principals, Superintendents, and Board members for their justifications for allowing Google into the classroom, their reply's are generally similar.
Many suggest that there are great monetary savings to be had, yet, no one has come forth with any proof of these great savings. Yes, there are price differences between ChromeBooks and Apple Computers. But they function differently too, with ChromeBooks unable to function without an Internet connection and unable to run media programs such as video editing software or 3d modeling software. While the Apple computer comes with a suite of powerful programs, and can run other platform specific programs as an Apple, Windows and Linux machine.

The ideas of ‘savings’ also suggests that there is a price-point to human rights. What price is that?

Some administrators have suggested that there is no privacy issue, as student privacy just doesn’t matter. Of course this dismissive view, like the former one, belies the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As well, many parents and government would certainly disagree with this idea. And again, this idea flys directly in the face of the the curriculum. The proof of such surveillance is well documented, in fact, the Mississippi Attorney General has sued Google over their student-data privacy infractions. The great harm that surveillance and technologically driven behavior modification cause are in the news daily, ranging from foreign government assaults on the democratic electoral processes under scrutiny by the American Senate, the drastic rise in suicide by young girls related to social media programming, and to the commercial price fluctuations offered to differently profiled consumers. Google has been found guilty of using its surveillance and profiling mechanisms to exclude women from receiving adds for high paying employment positions. Which is both illegal and precisely the kind of issue that our schools should be keenly aware.

Some believe that what schools do is irrelevant as the whole internet is a surveillance machine. This view may be valid in some aspects, however it does suggest a form of fatalism that really shouldn’t permeate schools, nor does it exonerate the school from its duty to protect the child from such surveillance, rather than becoming part of the surveillance system.

Some decision makers suggest that they are unaware of Googles’ surveillance practices. Which is a statement that shows a lack of due diligence. It also suggests that they do not understand the terms of use to which they have agreed. Just what behavioral modification practices does “advertising” include? Does advertising include the manipulation of a young students' Internet search results to favour certain commercial products and/or social, religious and political points of view? What is or is not a ‘core” element of the Google for Education suite? Can the school identify any or all of the third parties to which their student’s private information is sold? Can the school explain what the third parties can do with the personal information of our students? How long the information is held? Can third parties resale such data to anyone? Does any data go to foreign governments such as Korea, Syria, Pakistan, China and the United States? How does surveillance and profiling affect those with dual citizenship, visiting foreign students, or parents with employment of sensitive natures?
Many educators and decision makers do not wish to address the questions at all, preferring to feign ignorance. But purposefully ignoring or downplaying the reality of how technology affects our lives is not an option for any public educator and can not be justified.

It is clear that most decision makers who have agreed to the surveillance of their students by a private corporation are most hesitant to talk about it.

I expect that they have agreed to Google’s terms because others have agreed to the terms. But this is NOT in the best interest of the child, nor the school, nor the broader community.
Schools need to OPENLY ADRESS the issues that Internet Surveillance create. If they do not, they then serve to obfiscate the issue, supporting the acceptance of what was previously unacceptable.