Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is a suite of products that the Wappingers CSD has adopted (much like thousands of other school districts across our nation) for classroom use. These google app products are provided to educational institutions at no cost and are guaranteed to be free of advertisements. Our experience thus far supports this claim as our district has not experienced any advertisement pop ups associated with our use of their products (including email).
Google Apps for Education has provided several benefits to our faculty and students. Never before has access to a collaborative suite of tools been so readily available and easy to use. We were not the first to adopt GAFE as a school district, hundreds of districts came before us… instead our adoption was intentionally slow to implement.
Advocates for student data privacy have also taken note of the power of these tools and their rapid adoption by school districts. Concerned about data privacy The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) introduced a Student Privacy Pledge to safeguard student privacy regarding the collection, maintenance, and use of student personal information. Google, along with 200 other companies became signatories on this pledge.
“WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thursday, November 12, 2015 – The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) today announced that the Student Privacy Pledge, endorsed by President Obama, the National PTA and the National School Boards Association, now has the support of 200 companies serving millions of students.
The legally binding commitments in the Pledge can be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and State Attorneys General. All participating companies and organizations are listed online at www.studentprivacypledge.org.” (source: http://studentprivacypledge.org/?page_id=1071)
In late November / early December the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a complaint with the FTC stating that Google violated the Student Privacy Pledge. The news articles that cycled through the media focused on a setting that school districts have the ability to turn on or off. This setting is referred to as Google Sync (more about this in a moment). The EFF felt it necessary to provide a clarifying statement on their website detailing further the content of their complaint with the FTC: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/12/googles-student-tracking-isnt-limited-chrome-sync
Since this complaint was made public the FPF who co-authored the Student Privacy Pledge provided their own statement: https://fpf.org/2015/12/01/future-of-privacy-forum-statement-regarding-electronic-frontier-foundation-student-privacy-complaint/
As an extra step, the Wappingers CSD opened a support case with Google asking for further information regarding what data was specifically gathered when this google sync setting is enabled. Their support team referred us to Googles Official response: http://googleforeducation.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-facts-about-student-data-privacy-in.html. This post provides a detailed response from Google to the EFF complaint as well as affirmation as to what data is being used, and how.
Wappingers CSD has almost 1000 chromebooks deployed across the district K-12. These are all shared devices. Enabling Google Sync across our devices allows our students to conduct research , bookmark important sources, and customize their user settings and preference across multiple devices. Disabling this setting will stymie the ease of use that GAFE and chromebooks have brought to our district.
Based on the information we have reviewed we do not believe any identifiable student data is being compromised or gathered as a result of this setting being enabled. We will continue to monitor this issue as it develops in court and in the media. In the meantime, if an individual user wishes to disable this setting on their own they may do so by following these instructions: https://support.google.com/chromebook/answer/2914794?hl=en