EFF Files FTC Complaint Alleging Google Chromebooks Invade Student Privacy, Collect And Share App Usage, Browsing History

Google is no stranger to accusations of invading user privacy, but the latest one comes from Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and relates to a highly sensitive market: education.

Google would like to see its Chromebooks in the hands of as many people as possible, especially in education, so it's crafted a program that helps educators integrate the devices into the curriculum, and makes their jobs easier once devices are deployed. This includes a head administrator being able to login to an interface and adjust certain settings that will affect the entire fleet en masse.

This is all fine and good. But what has everyone on edge is the fact that Google seems to be overstepping its bounds. From the complaint, "EFF bases this petition on evidence that Google is engaged in collecting, maintaining, using, and sharing student personal information in violation of the 'K-12 School Service Provider Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy' (Student Privacy Pledge), of which it is a signatory."

ASUS Chromebook

This could prove to be a massive problem for Google, because this is a market where the rules are taken extremely seriously. Fueling this complaint, the EFF lays out three specific ways that Google is stepping out of bounds. At the forefront, it's been found that Google fetches student data for non-educational Google services, even though the all-encompassing rule says that no personal data can be collected at all.

Second, the "Chrome Sync" feature in Google's web browser is enabled by default, meaning that all browsing history (and plugins, settings, et cetera) is sent to Google. This is done for the sake of convenience, so that a user's browser is the same regardless of the PC they're on, but ultimately, it means that all of this data is in the hands of Google, and could be used to its own advantage.

The third point is that with the administrative tool, an educator could enable a setting that automatically grants increased access of user data to Google.

At this point, we must begin the waiting game to see if the FTC agrees with the EFF and decides to take action. Based on the points made, it does seem like the EFF has a solid case on its hands.