Let’s Stop Google from Gobbling Up Our Schools
(The following article was co-written by Dr. Jackie Smith -- of the International Network of Scholar Activsts -- and TCBH writer Alfredo Lopez. It is being published here and in other places.)
In October of 2006, Google launched its Apps for Education, with Arizona State University being its first client. Today there are more than 25 million individual users in both K-12 and higher ed institutions, and 74 of the top 100 universities use Google apps for their university communications and software applications.
Victor Alhadeff, CEO of Boost eLearning, a Google for Work and Google for Education partner, cites projected figures exceeding 110 million users by 2020. He notes that the current user base represents only about 4.5% of the potential market, and that there is tremendous potential for growth—mainly in developing countries.
Google’s educational packages include things like the google calendar, Google docs, Google classroom, gmail, and most recently it has added the Chromebook. Chromebooks are low-cost and easy-to-use notebooks that come with support and built-in access to Google Apps. They are offered to schools participating in Google for Education for $149. Google reports that it sold more than 1 million Chromebooks in just the second quarter of 2014. In November of 2014, the New York City School Department of Education adopted Chromebook as part of its approved and supported tools in its 1800 schools.
Schools across the U.S. and around the world are now “going Google,” as the companies marketers like to say.
Why should we worry?
For starters, as it does with its gmail users, Google scans user’s incoming and outgoing emails to help it develop targeted advertising. Following complaints from users, some institutions have tried to limit this practice. But since Google provides its product for free, they have limited bargaining power and few means to monitor and enforce restrictions on what Google does with user data.
Despite Google’s announcement in May of 2014 that it would stop scanning student and faculty email for advertising purposes, the company continues to operate scanning filters for purposes such as spam, spell-check, and other technical purposes.
Moreover, it is not clear whether and how educational users’ personal gmail accounts may be linked to those provided through Apps for Education. Private accounts are not protected by Google’s no-scanning for advertising pledge. As recently as February 2016, a new lawsuit was filed by students and alumni of the University of California-Berkeley over allegations that emails were illegally intercepted and scanned by Google.
But threats of unwanted advertising are not the only ones emerging from our growing reliance on Google communications technologies. According to Leaked NSA documents, Google is among the companies that cooperate with the NSA's PRISM surveillance program, which authorizes the U.S. government to secretly access data of non-U.S. citizens hosted by American companies without a warrant. Data from U.S. citizen accounts may be disclosed by Google in response to a government warrant.