Google’s Chromebooks now make up more half of all devices in US kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms, according to a report from CNBC, citing an analyst from Forrester research.
Just three years ago, Chromebooks had less than a one percent share. Why the big jump? Forrester figures it’s due to a combination of security tools, multi-user support, and low cost.
But not everyone is sold on the idea of using Google’s cloud-based operating system in a classroom setting.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that could affect Google’s future in education.
According to the EFF, Google tracks students’ browsing activity for non-educational purposes without getting express consent from parents.
The watchdog organization discovered that Google has the ability to track and build behavioral profiles on children as young as seven years old when they go outside of the company’s specific GAFE suite of apps.
Additionally, Chrome sync, which is on by default on all Chromebooks sold to schools, allows Google to track students on other devices (including smartphones, tablets, PCs, and laptops) if they sign in with their Google account via a Chrome browser.
Google published an official response to the complaint, denying any violation of the Student Privacy Pledge, which it signed in January.
Jonathan Rochelle, Director of GAFE, wrote in a blog post that the Core Services provided in GAFE – Gmail, Calendar Classroom, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Contacts, Groups, Vault, and Hangout – only use students’ personal data for the purpose of allowing them to communicate, collaborate on assignments, and other useful features. He noted that there are no ads in the Core Services and they are not used for advertising purposes.
Rochelle also addressed the Chrome Sync issue by clarifying that the feature is designed to make cross-platform activities easier. The student can pick up where they left off from one computer to the next, with their apps, extensions, bookmarks, and visited webpages already saved.
He went on to say that Chrome Sync strips away information about individual users and only tracks their anonymous activities to improve their services.
In a follow up response, however, the EFF specifically called out the fact that, although Google doesn’t build profiles on students or target ads to them within the GAFE suite of apps, when a student goes to a different Google services, like Google Search, Blogger, Bookmarks, Books, Maps, News, Photos, Google+, and YouTube, the company identifies their activity with their student account and does target ads to them, in at least some of those services.
The EFF cites the example of student that was being required to use Chromebooks in school, with no ability to opt-out. The student’s parent felt uncomfortable with his daughter using a device built by an advertisement company.
What do you think? Are Chromebooks a good fit for the classroom? Or are they problematic machines that send students the message that there’s nothing wrong with handing over their personal data to a large corporation?