By the Blouin News Technology staff

Google caught in student data crossfire

by in Personal Tech.

Adam Berry/Getty Images

Adam Berry/Getty Images

In various U.S. states, the security of student data is getting a certain amount of spotlight time. Louisiana is proposing a bill that would limit the storing of certain kinds of data about students. Wyoming has passed a bill in its House that would limit disclosure of student data and regulate how and when it is destroyed. On a federal level, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan came out last month to push for more regulation on student data now that virtual technologies are being introduced into school systems steadily. And now in California, Google is under fire for potentially violating state and federal wiretap laws because of the ways in which it collects student data and uses it for advertising.

VISUAL CONTEXT: U.S. WEB PRIVACY

Source: Pew Research

Source: Pew Research

It is common knowledge by now that internet companies — particularly search engines and social networks — compile personal information about users and use it to attract advertisers by allowing access to certain elements of user information that enable advertisers to target specific groups of potential consumers. But the lawsuits now filed against Google for capturing information about students call into question how these practices should be handled under existing wiretap laws, and they bring up the question of how to integrate big data and education when many pieces of information about students is protected as private under some state and federal laws.

The group of lawsuits has failed to reach class action status, but they are nonetheless important for the education world, especially considering Google’s acknowledgement of its practice in scanning the content of millions of emails sent and received by students who use the company’s Apps for Education suite of software, according to The Guardian. Google insists that the students filing the lawsuits consented to have their information shared, but The Guardian quotes social media lawyer Bradley S. Shear on the trickiness of that claim:

Since Google provides this same exact service for free to thousands of schools across the country it raises a serious question of whether Google is data mining the school emails of millions of students across the country for financial gain…It does not appear that students, parents, and/or teachers have been informed and provided consent that would enable their digital interactions and the content sent and received on school contracted Gmail services to be utilized for advertising purposes.

The technicalities of data-mining of students’ information will be worked out in California, but could have ramifications on not only Google’s practices, but legislation of other states, and perhaps extend to the federal level.