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Education Electronic Frontier Foundation Google Chrome Operating Systems Privacy Security Software

EFF Says Google Chromebooks Are Still Spying On Students (softpedia.com) 84

schwit1 quotes a report from Softpedia: In the past two years since a formal complaint was made against Google, not much has changed in the way they handle this. Google still hasn't shed its "bad guy" clothes when it comes to the data it collects on underage students. In fact, the Electronic Frontier Foundation says the company continues to massively collect and store information on children without their consent or their parents'. Not even school administrators fully understand the extent of this operation, the EFF says. According to the latest status report from the EFF, Google is still up to no good, trying to eliminate students privacy without their parents notice or consent and "without a real choice to opt out." This, they say, is done via the Chromebooks Google is selling to schools across the United States.
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EFF Says Google Chromebooks Are Still Spying On Students

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  • I mean, either this is illegal and they should be, or this is perfectly legal, then the complaint has no merit. Which one is it?

    • by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Saturday April 22, 2017 @04:06AM (#54281625)

      I suspect the problem is there isn't anything really illegal about it, it's just unethical from the EFF's point of view.
      Unfortunately for them, ethics is something subjective and large corporations generally don't have.

      All they can do is try and raise outrage on the consumer/government level and hope it's enough to get Google to change.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      They are putting personal data like names, photographs on social media. That isn't anything different from having year photographs on school noticeboards and yearbooks.. If they were taking live streamed photographs and recording audio that would be a wiretapping crime.

      • They are putting personal data like names, photographs on social media. That isn't anything different from having year photographs on school noticeboards and yearbooks.. If they were taking live streamed photographs and recording audio that would be a wiretapping crime.

        Except parents explicitly opt in to allow the photographs to be taken and sign a release for their use. If parents do not sign the release photos are not take. I know of parents with special ed kids who do not allow them to be photographed and the school complies with those wishes. At a minimum, the school is misrepresenting themselves as the student to establish the accounts, which probably violate TOS if not any laws. If enough parents complain to the school board and the head of the local school district

    • I mean, either this is illegal and they should be, or this is perfectly legal, then the complaint has no merit. Which one is it?

      Does this have to be limited to only the two possibilities you suggest? Here are three more
      * legal, but annoying
      * legal, but unethical
      * legal, but because case law has not been found that applies to it yet. That is, it's untested

  • by Kenneth Lyon ( 4859935 ) on Saturday April 22, 2017 @03:14AM (#54281553)
    It seems they're contesting that the surveillance Google's operating system is conducting constitutes a non-consensual search. In the context of children being provided a resource that is data-mining their behaviors without their parents mandatory legal consent, it's a very clever point to try and burst that bubble. I think they might should win, too. What Microsoft, Google, and Apple are all doing with their operating systems to survey their users, it might be rightly argued it's crossed into the realm of an unlawful form of surveillance.
    • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Saturday April 22, 2017 @03:47AM (#54281599) Homepage

      There is also the matter of what is done with the information. Is Google seeking to manipulate the choices of children regardless of the psychological harm that causes those children. Peer pressure is the marketing tool of choice, using peer pressure damages children, those who stigmatise others and the victims of that psychological attack, the penalty applied to children for the parents failure to buy the products demanded by adults with degree in marketing and psychological. That would be child abuse upon a mass scale. Even in parents consent to the information being gathered, I strongly doubt they would accept psychologically trained professional adults manipulating children to feed the greed of those adults, with total disregard to the psychological impact upon those children the Goolge's trained professionals are preying upon. Not them alone of course, M$ and now even the ISPs are also looking to psychological prey upon and manipulate children.

      Time for a complete ban on collecting information about minors and targeting them with marketing, a complete across the board ban.

      • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Saturday April 22, 2017 @05:10AM (#54281687) Journal

        Time for a complete ban on collecting information about minors and targeting them with marketing, a complete across the board ban.

        How about it's time for a complete ban on collecting information about anyone without consent. Make it opt-in. If targeted ads are better and really lead to "an enriched and engaging experience that customers will enjoy interacting with", as all privacy-averse marketing drones claim, then people will opt-in en masse in order not to be stuck with the boring old untargeted ads.

        • You go to the corner store every Saturday to buy gum. The cashier knows you (and your purchase history) and tells you about a new gum that came out. He just violated your ban.
          • You go to the corner store every Saturday to buy gum. The cashier knows you (and your purchase history) and tells you about a new gum that came out. He just violated your ban.

            While I agree such a ban would be unworkable, in the case you described I would think there was an implied consent to collect the information you provided based on the purchase.

          • Only if he actually wrote down the purchase history. At a glance there is no difference between remembering such data and storing it on paper or electronically, but in practice there's a reasonable limit on what a clerk can remember... and shoppers would be suitably freaked out by a clerk who has perfect recall of each customer's history; it's probably not going to be a big selling point for the store. Another difference is that the clerk's memory cannot be mined or stolen.

            But I am sure some legal eagl
            • actually for Olde School Customer service its REQUIRED to remember your most common customers. heck there were times when i saw a new item come in and immediately thought of a customer that would want it.

              Patrick Jayne (the mentalist) would be EPIC in customer service.

      • by ACE209 ( 1067276 )
        Actually I would even go a step further, and ban all advertising targeted at children.
  • Look at Android (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 22, 2017 @03:30AM (#54281567)

    Take a look at Android, it's a very scammy surveillance OS.

    1. Your location is transmitted to Google, together with surrounding wifi settings. They do this with a popup that appears whenever you turn on GPS, it asks you if you want to improve location accuracy, in actuality it's tracking the surrounding wifi spots and matching them against the GPS location your phone records. The dialog is written so you think you need to say yes to get GPS to work, but you can say no and GPS still works.
    It always appears, all the time, until you say yes, and then it doesn't popup again, quietly tracking your location and watching your nearby wifi hotspots.
    You cannot say 'no, never' the dialog will keep pestering.

    2. Google Play Store, if you try to disable or remove this, it will remove every app you installed from the playstore at the same time. Google play store provides Google with your credit card linkage, and real id, to the location and search surveillance it does.

    3. You cannot remove the required google account and keep the apps you installed.

    4. Android now INSISTS on a telephone number for Android device registrations.

    5. Google changes the privacy terms frequently, it popups says "action required" and if you refuse to say yes to whatever privacy invasion they've introduced, the alternate options are to delete your Google account (and uninstall every app you installed, see 2). This is false, you can simply ignore the demand to accept the change of terms.

    6. Did you agree to backup the phone? That pester message that pops up regularly that you can't tell "no never' to? You just gave Google the password to every wifi network and business server you ever used. Compromising a lot of data.

    They present a set of information in a privacy dashboard that is a tiny subset of the information they actually record. All pages visited with Google stats and Google adverts, and Google content served are also known to them and recorded by them. Your Youtube viewing is recorded even when logged out using browser profile id. Same with Google search, it persters you to login, but if you don't they still record the searches you make against the browser id to cross link for when you eventually do login.

    Really, Duckduckgo for search and avoid them like the plague and they'll still have a mass of tracking information on you. You cannot opt out of this, they present it as the price for having an Android device.

    Google are surveillance-ware shit.

    • Rooting, clean room, no GAPPS.
      Use alternative app stores.
      Use global ad blocking.
      Never Google anything.

      That's my suggestion to the problems you pointed out. It has it's drawbacks..

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Saturday April 22, 2017 @12:28PM (#54282919)

      1. Your location is transmitted to Google, together with surrounding wifi settings. They do this with a popup that appears whenever you turn on GPS, it asks you if you want to improve location accuracy, in actuality it's tracking the surrounding wifi spots and matching them against the GPS location your phone records. The dialog is written so you think you need to say yes to get GPS to work, but you can say no and GPS still works.

      You can thank Apple and the government for that. Apple did (does?) exactly this to develop their initial WiFi map data. They rolled out an update which collected location and nearby WiFi SSID data from people's iPhones [f-secure.com] and uploaded it to Apple, and buried the fact that they were doing it in the iTunes installation process. Once they got this data by using every iPhone owner as an unpaid hotspot locator, they dumped the Skyhook WiFi map they had been licensing.

      Google developed their WiFi map by adding WiFi SSID sniffers to the cars they were driving around the world to take Street View pictures for Google Maps. Someone at the EU claimed they were recording more than just SSID. Google said that was ridiculous, self-audited their collection software, found a developer's setting hadn't been turned off and that they had beent collecting more than just SSID, and self-reported themselves to the EU. The EU and US governments promptly sued and fined them for it. Apple OTOH got off scott free. So Google stopped collecting the WiFi SSID location data collection themselves, and just copied what Apple was doing - lifting the data straight from people's phones.

      2. Google Play Store, if you try to disable or remove this, it will remove every app you installed from the playstore at the same time. Google play store provides Google with your credit card linkage, and real id, to the location and search surveillance it does.

      So maybe they should be like Apple and make it impossible to remove the Play Store?

      At least they give you the option to not use the Google Play Store if you don't want to use it. You can use an alternate store like Amazon. Or if you're really paranoid you can just sideload everything directly from your PC. Good luck doing that with the competitors.

      3. You cannot remove the required google account and keep the apps you installed.

      Well duh. Without the Google account, the apps have no way of knowing if they were installed after being legitimately purchased, or if they were pirated. The Achilles heel of online software distribution is confirmation of licensing. Either Google does it, with the side-effect that removing the Google account disables the apps. Or every app developer out there including the one-person shops has to run, operate, and maintain their own licensing server 24/7/365.

      4. Android now INSISTS on a telephone number for Android device registrations.

      ? My Android tablet didn't. You sure this isn't something the cellular carriers have added to Android phones?

      6. Did you agree to backup the phone? That pester message that pops up regularly that you can't tell "no never' to? You just gave Google the password to every wifi network and business server you ever used. Compromising a lot of data.

      Everyone does this. Google is the only one who lets you see what they've collected on you [google.com], and gives you the option to delete it if you wish.

    • 1. Simply turn GPS off except when needed.

      2. Since when? I run ICS at have disabled the Play Store because an update to Play Services a few months ago began eating 100% CPU, however in the process of isolating this I uninstalled and disabled multiple things including Play Store without issue (other than no app updates, or easy way to install apps without reenabling the store).

      5. Never seen any such thing.

    • Take a look at Android, it's a very scammy surveillance OS.

      True. It does have a lot of ops-in.

      1. Your location is transmitted to Google, together with surrounding wifi settings. They do this with a popup that appears whenever you turn on GPS, it asks you if you want to improve location accuracy, in actuality it's tracking the surrounding wifi spots and matching them against the GPS location your phone records. The dialog is written so you think you need to say yes to get GPS to work, but you can say no an

  • Get used to it (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    We live in the Surveillance Age now. For better or worse we must expect each and every action we make to be recorded and watched. We must expect each and every word to say to be recorded and listened to. We must expect our existence to be constantly observed and analyzed. This will not stop. Ever. There is no way out. Anyone trying to avoid surveillance is automatically marked a "person of interest". You don't want to be on a blacklist, do you? Gotta work to eat.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This guy is on to us. GET HIM BOYS!

    • You don't want to be on a blacklist, do you?

      Honestly, I wouldn't really mind to unfairly (-> only possible way as far as I am not doing anything wrong) be in a blacklist. Although I am a peaceful person not particularly interested in getting in trouble, I don't think that abusing authority/power should be tolerated via fear. In democratic and law-based countries, civic resistance to official arbitrariness is almost a must. When what is really behind that unfairness is capital, rich people getting richer and wellness/peace of mind of the few (what

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      It completely takes the piss when you try and use Visual Studio 2017 IDE, and discover that you have to have an account with Azurre and login before you can actually use the editor or compiler. Even with VMware, the manager connects with their remote server.

      • I guess that you mean Community version and that it similar to VS 2015. In that case, you should be able to use it without linking any account for around 1 month; after that, you would have to log-in just once, then you can log-out and it will work forever (or perhaps until the next important upgrade). I didn't use 2015 too much (and much less 2017), but I saw some curious situations like not being able to offline compile some projects which shouldn't require an internet connection.

        I am quite sure that Mic
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Meanwhile, Google has blocked mp3 search. Go ahead, type filetype:mp3 anything and see for yourself.

    • Meanwhile, Google has blocked mp3 search. Go ahead, type filetype:mp3 anything and see for yourself.

      That is because it would lead you off of google properties, go to youtube and search for ANY song, you'll find it.

  • Google used to have a good image in my opinion. Their slogan "Don't be evil" rang true for many people. But Google is just like any other corporation, now: They're all about the money. It's too bad the world and people in it don't reward responsibility and Google is actually just fitting into their stupidity and apathy. That being said, I hope Google suffers horribly for this, especially concerning minors. Then again, if parents are too stupid and lazy to care, to hell with their kids, who are pretty much y
  • Don't use Chromebooks. It's as though it's the only option, and it isn't.

  • It is a one-way business relationship in which Alphabet monetizes user data and gets the money, and the people who purchase Chromebooks or use Chrome browser, get the business.

  • That's what you get with cloud computing. No privacy or control.
  • Microsoft is still busy trying to catch up.. Number of users is no longer the main factor for measuring worth. Instead it's all about how much information you can get from them.
  • They run Chrome OS. Basically an extension of Google into your lap. Like android phones are a extension of Google into your hands and pockets.

    Complaining that Google is observing it's users is like complaining that water is wet. Observing users is Googles freakin business model, that's what they earn money with. That's why you get all the neat stuff including cloud storage basically for free. This is also the reason Google is not another MS or Apple. They are a different league. They don't care what your de

  • by ITRambo ( 1467509 ) on Saturday April 22, 2017 @11:08AM (#54282597)
    There are no specific examples of what issues the data collection has created. A Google account is required. Anything entered when setting up the account is used to identify the student so if their Chromebook breaks, they can be assigned another one, login, and be up and running rather quickly. Homework is stored in Google's cloud and checked there by the student's teachers. This story seems like FUD being spread to get schools and parents worried about something that should be of no concern, just as Microsoft is releasing their new Windows Cloud Chromebook competitors. The timing may not be coincidental.
  • I know they are affordable, but do parents and school boards understand their students' info is being collected and used who knows how?
  • why are they raising this complaint again just as Microsoft 'leaks' details of their Win 10 Cloud 'Chromebook Competitor'? I'm sure any effort by MS to provide a lightweight browser-based OS/laptop will be just as nefarious as a Chromebook, but honestly, the Chromebook does what it does perfectly, and MS only knows how to bloat things up and make them unusable.
  • I trust Google more than Apple or Microsoft. No majors hacks...yet.

  • I just read the EFF status report [eff.org] linked from TFA and the summary. I'm usually a big fan of the EFF and what they do, but this status report seems completely devoid of actual privacy violations.

    Section 1 (which is most of the status report) is "survey results". They sent out a survey saying "do you completely understand you child's school's privacy policy", and unsurprisingly almost nobody does. Which is a problem, but not a privacy problem. If you asked most people "do you completely understand all of

  • The real problem is the school administrators loading all of the student's personal information into the devices, using poor privacy and security practices, not taking the time to understand what they were doing with the Chromebooks, and then blaming Google. Read the article. Here's a quote that sticks out:

    "schools had mass-enrolled their kids into Google email accounts, using their full names. Furthermore, they posted photos of them on social media sites and enrolled them into other services that colle

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