While schools across the country remain empty amid the coronavirus pandemic, companies looking to seize the distance-learning boom have a veritable feast laid before them.
According to conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, “Big Google is leading the way — and that is not OK.”
As we’ve frequently reported, the web can be an incredibly dangerous place for children with regard to predators. Some have gained entry into school video conferences and subjected children to pornography and profanity.
This is a serious threat to children, but there’s another danger lurking on the web that most haven’t considered. Where your average creep with a laptop would be considered a sexual predator, Malkin argues that Google is an information predator.
While parents are undoubtedly grateful for all the free tech, both software and hardware such as Chromebooks, to help their children have as smooth a “school-at-home” experience as possible, what does this mean for their online privacy?
“Unsuspecting parents,” Malkin declares, “have no idea the privacy price their children are paying.”
“This isn’t charity,” she goes on. “It’s big tech recruitment of vulnerable generations of future Google addicts. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Google inked a deal to provide 4,000 ‘free’ Chromebooks to students, along with ‘free’ Wi-Fi to 100,000 families. In Kentucky, the Jefferson County public schools gave away 25,000 Chromebooks. In Philadelphia, public officials earmarked $11 million to purchase 40,000 Chromebooks for homebound kids.”
Now, Google’s Classroom product has skyrocketed to over 100 million students and educators.
In light of a wave of security breaches, schools are abandoning video conference platform Zoom—and Google is waiting for them with open arms and comparable software called “Google Meet.”
“If educators think Google will provide more protections for American students than the ChiCom government,” Malkin argues, “they’re blind, dumb or bought off.”
Malkin points to recent cases in which the Silicon Valley giant “repeatedly breached federal privacy laws to extend its tentacles into children’s emails, browsing habits, search engine activity, voice memos and more without parental consent.”
“Google’s information predators have previously admitted to unauthorized scanning and indexing of student email accounts and targeted online advertising based on search engine activity,” Malkin continues, “as well as autosyncing of passwords, browsing history and other private data across devices and accounts belonging to students and families unaware of default tracking.”
Now, Malkin hopes that a new lawsuit seeking class-action status against Google filed in Illinois will make families think harder about their “pandemic-gifted Chromebooks.”
Clinton Farwell, a father of two, alleges in the suit that Google illegally collected personally-identifying biometric information from his children through their public school-issued Chromebooks (loaded with G Suite for Education apps) as far back as 2015.
The suit lays out how Google has “infiltrated” K-12 education with hardware and software primarily targeting students under the age of 13. The software collects their face templates, voiceprints, physical locations, websites they visit, every search term they use in Google’s search engine (and the results they click on), the videos they watch on YouTube, personal contact lists, voice recordings, saved passwords, and other behavioral information.
Although the company is a signatory of a “Student Privacy Pledge” and promises not to collect, share and retain private personal data, Google’s Chromebooks can scan students’ faces and unique acoustic details of students’ voices to identify them by name, age, gender and location while using Google platforms. It wasn’t until he discovered they were required to speak and look into the laptops’ microphones and cameras in order to use the school products and apps that Farwell realized his kids’ biometric data was being stored in Google’s vast database.
And now, Malkin laments, governments are trusting Google to help develop contact-tracing technology “on the promise that they won’t collect location data, won’t exploit data for commercial purposes, and won’t grant access to unauthorized parties?”
As Malkin puts it, “Fox, meet henhouse.”
What will stop this data-mining behemoth? Surely not the “regulatory slaps on the wrist by toothless federal agencies” Google has received thus far.
“Where is Congress, which passed the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 to prevent exactly the kind of routine marauding of students’ digital lives perpetrated by Google and other EdTech vultures?” Malkin asks. Simple, they’re still at work passing bills like the “Every Student Succeeds Act” and the “Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy Act,” which Malkin says are “deceptively titled bills” that actually expand third-party access to sensitive personal data.
“The Invisible Enemy is right under our noses, in our homes and on our kids’ laptops,” Malkin concludes. “Instead of removing children en masse from their classrooms in the name of public health, responsible adults should be de-platforming Google’s privacy pillagers from every school in America in the name of public safety.”
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