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Google Apps for Education (GAfE) is often considered a blessing for small, large school districts, and is relied on by many. Still, people often want to ask, Why is Google providing such great services to schools at no cost? Simply, how is Google benefiting from having so many school districts and statewide education systems relying on Google tools to the exclusion of all others (e.g. Microsoft)?
The inability to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question will haunt all of us that rely on Google’s education-focused product, GAfE. EdWeek has an article posted, entitled Google Under Fire for Data Mining and authored by Benjamin Herold. It asserts the following points:
- giant online-services provider Google has acknowledged scanning the contents of millions of email messages sent and received by student users of the company’s Apps for Education tool suite for schools.
- A Google spokeswoman confirmed to Education Week that the company “scans and indexes” the emails of all Apps for Education users for a variety of purposes, including potential advertising, via automated processes that cannot be turned off—even for Apps for Education customers who elect not to receive ads.
- That means not only mining students’ email messages for key words and other information, but also using resulting data—including newly created derivative information, or “metadata”—for “secret user profiling” that could serve as the basis for such activities as delivering targeted ads in Google products other than Apps for Education, such as Google Search, Google+, and YouTube.
Those points in mind, surrounded by a lot of words, boil down to the scanning of GAfE emails for the potential use of creating targeted ads. The question is, Has Google done that? Their response is as follows and is elaborated in this Privacy statement:
- When ads in Gmail are turned off for Google Apps for Education, automated scanning that is done in Gmail is not used to target ads to Education users, whether inside Gmail or in other Google products (e.g. YouTube, Google Search, etc.).
- We do not scan information stored in Google Drive or Docs (or Sheets, Slides, Drawings, Forms) to target ads to Apps for Education customers.
Seems straightforward to me. . .Google’s answer is NO. Maybe they might consider adding this statement:
Any data gathered by automated scanning in Google Apps for Education’s Gmail service is NOT used in any way (e.g. target ads) outside of Google Apps for Education.
Perhaps the statement (#1) says that, but I’d write it differently. Of course, Google–and any other providers of email, calendar, productivity tools–should be grilled if they were scanning information then using it to target ads. It’s sad that we’re getting to the point that everyone has to police how data is being used.
Once upon a time, you could appeal to the U.S. Government, legislators, and hope for assistance. Now, well, argh.
So…We should all learn how to encrypt our communications. It’s hard to imagine children doing this, but remember, A Christmas Story. How many of us had decoder rings in the U.S. and abroad (I grew up in Panama)? Encrypting our communications is a part of digital citizenship.
The reason I share this is that we should be encrypting our files, documents, emails when they are sensitive in nature. Some would argue to encrypt everything. With Google Drive pricing dropping below Dropbox, learning to protect your confidential data is important. Obviously, there are some projects that won’t be encrypted in K-16 settings and that’s fine. But what a great opportunity for educators.
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