Schools, Privacy, and Chromebooks. That ship has sailed.
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A recent report out of NEPC, in Boulder, Colorado, entitled, “Learning to be Watched: Surveillance Culture at School“ correctly leads off by stating,
“Schools now routinely direct children online to do their schoolwork, thereby exposing them to tracking of their online behavior and subsequent targeted marketing.”
“Moreover, several FERPA exceptions allow student records to be disclosed to certain parties or under certain conditions without parental consent. The most significant exception is that without consent, school officials may release student records for any educational purpose they deem legitimate, as when an organizations is conducting studies for or on behalf of a school; records are also available to authorized representatives of the U.S. Comptroller General, U.S. Education Secretary, or state educational authorities.”
NEPC: “The National Education Policy Center is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions.” NEPC produces the Annual Report on Schoolhouse Commercialism Trends. and also authored this: On the Block: Student Data and Privacy in the Digital Age .
Please consider reading this recent NEPC report and articles posted above. We hope other folks in NEPC’s home town of Boulder read it, too. Here’s why:
1:1 Google Chromebooks in Boulder Schools- with Chrome Sync activated
We find it ironic that NEPC (from Boulder) comes out with this well researched report at nearly the same time that Boulder School District is planning to implement a program that illustrates concerns about the very marketing and surveillance mentioned in the NEPC report. Boulder’s newspaper, The Daily Camera reported last week that Boulder Valley School District will expand its use of 1:1 Chromebooks for each student, dubbed their one-to-web program. This Chromebook initiative is meant to eventually expand into elementary grades including kindergarten and Boulder is planning on charging students $45 per year for the use of each Google Chromebook.
“Boulder Valley started the one-to-web initiative two years ago at Lafayette’s Centaurus High School, with the district giving every freshman a Chromebook. This fall, the district expanded to Broomfield High, again starting with freshmen. But, to keep the initiative going and expand to more schools, the district needs an ongoing revenue source, Moore said.” Andrew Moore is Boulder Valley’s chief information officer; he is also quoted in this article as saying this about the Chromebook:
“It’s a tool, just like a pencil or a calculator,” he said. “The device is less important than getting our students digitally connected.”-Andrew Moore, BVSD
Does a pencil or calculator store your data in a cloud? Does a pencil use hidden algorithms or meta data to detect your emotional states or peek at the content of your email, or record what you search for? No.
We all know that Google Chromebook is a device that is not really “just like a pencil or calculator tool.” With Chrome Sync enabled, Chromebook sends every students’ entire browsing history back to Google. This is one of the reasons for the FTC complaint brought against Google by the EFF, (Electronic Frontier Foundation.) According to the video below, Boulder Valley School District is aware of this, but chooses to leave Chrome Sync enabled.
We wonder if Boulder parents have been properly informed of the data being collected, or if they were told about the Google complaints and current or previous lawsuits, and given an opportunity to opt out? What happens when a parent doesn’t want their child logged into a Chromebook? (For more on how Google collects data see the end of this post.)
These Board members are justified in their concern about data collection and student privacy. We hope the public gets a chance to learn about these issues and they, and other school districts continue to have these discussions…with parents and teachers.
“…the primary thrust of [FTC] complaint focuses on how Google tracks and builds behavioral profiles on students when they navigate to Google-operated sites outside of Google Apps for Education. We’ve tried to explain this issue in both our complaint and our FAQ, but given its significance we think it’s worth explaining again.
To understand what’s going on, you first have to understand that when it comes to education, Google divides its services into two categories: Google Apps for Education (GAFE), which includes email, Calendar, Talk/Hangouts, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Sites, Contacts, and the Apps Vault; and everything else, which includes Google Search, Blogger, Bookmarks, Books, Maps, News, Photos, Google+, and YouTube, just to name a few.
Google has promised not to build profiles on students or serve them ads only within Google Apps for Education services. When a student goes to a different Google service, however, and they’re still logged in under their educational account, Google associates their activity on that service with their educational account, and then serves them ads on at least some of those non-GAFE services based on that activity.” –Electronic Frontier Foundation