When YouTube is Not Enough: Google’s Uncle Sugar Wants to Organize the Data From Your Schools

We all know that the real value of YouTube is the data: the music, movies and television is just the honeypot for the data.  Particularly for underage users that Google has trouble getting any other way.  But if YouTube isn’t enough, where does Google go to get data on kids?

Data Mining K-12 Students is Big Business

Eric Schmidt, or as he’s known at MTP, “Uncle Sugar”, managed to get himself made a member of New York “Smart Schools Commission”.  And what does Uncle Sugar think New York schools need the most?  Broadband. And you know what Google just happens to have?  Broadband.

And what does Google do with its Google Fiber broadband?  Data mining and profiling of user information.  Yes, lucky Google Fiber users, YOU are the product.

Google Starbucks 2

Dang, ya’ll.  What a coincidence.

How is New York going to pay for this broadband that it needs so desperately?  Borrow the money, of course.

That’s right–the taxpayer is going to borrow the money!  In New York City, the most taxed city in America, if not the world.  Because you know what’s cool?  BILLIONS are cool.

“There are more than 500 schools that don’t have one connection that meets the broadband criteria that most of you have in your homes. That is a tragedy,” Schmidt said during an appearance in Mineola, WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs reported.

Schmidt is a member of the state’s Smart Schools Commission, which is proposing a $2 billion plan to bring broadband and other integrated technology into every public school. The Smart Schools Bond Act is on next week’s ballot.

So you don’t think that Google is going to somehow get its paws on scraping data from New York school kids, do you?

Unfortunately for Google, its home state of California has other ideas.  We know how little regard Google has for state sovereignty (except when it comes to state university libraries that feed their catalogs out the back door for Google to monetize, I guess).  But when you actually have your business in California, you need to pay attention to California’s laws–particularly the ones who protect kids.

California Legislation Protecting Student Data

Mayor de Blasio may be interested in recently passed legislation protecting students from Google in California that Google opposed.  According to Education Week:

The Student Online Personal Information Protection Act, or SOPIPA [interesting acronym], prohibits operators of online educational services from selling student data and using such information to target advertising to students or to “amass a profile” on students for a non-educational purpose.  [Which is exactly what Google does with its Apps for Education product, Gmail, Google Apps for Work or any product that uses its Content OneBox technology.]

The law also requires online service providers to maintain adequate security procedures and to delete student information at the request of a school or district.  James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that helped craft the law, described SOPIPA in an interview with Education Week as the nation’s “first truly comprehensive student-data-privacy legislation” and said he expects it to become a model for other states around the country.

“It’s a major step forward in creating a trusted online learning environment,” Steyer said. “I think this is a blunt call to industry to say that school data is for educational purposes.  Period.”

Protecting student data has become an increasingly contentious issue in recent months, with parents and activists expressing growing concern about the nature and volume of digital data on children that schools now share with third-party vendors [which is what Starbucks does]….

California’s new law is unique in putting the responsibility for ensuring the privacy of student data on industry. Governor Brown also signed into law a related bill that would require districts’ contracts with vendors to include certain privacy-related provisions. Steyer said that many of the “major players” in the ed-tech industry attempted to “water down” SOPIPA during the legislative process, but praised the bill’s sponsor, state Senate President Pro tempore Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, for “standing up to the tech industry and saying ‘no.'”

How does this work?  Jeff Gould tells us at Medium:

Schools and school districts are another possible source of valuable segmentation data. They publish aggregate data on student test scores, income levels and ethnicity, and are well correlated with other geographically tagged data sources (e.g. by ZIP or Census district). Google says that its Google Apps for Education (GAFE) service has 30 million users worldwide, of which many millions are in the United States. GAFE thus gives it a vast pool of users whose profiles it can compare with external data sources.

It would be…straightforward…to compare user clusters derived from GAFE with the data published by schools and school districts. Once calibrated by comparison with external data in this way, Google’s clustering algorithms would no longer need to access that data, which has the disadvantage of being cumbersome to manage and static. Instead, the algorithms could extract on a dynamic basis valuable segments of youth consumers directly from the stream of email flowing into GAFE student accounts. The resulting data could be used to target ads, improve search results or even provide Google advertisers with insights into purchasing trends among fine-grained segments of this population. For example, Google could tell brands in real time what the latest shoe buying trends are among urban teenage boys in selected cities, or which retail fashion brands are preferred by teenage girls whose families fall in a given income bracket and geographical region. [Emphais mine.]

Student data mining is big business–but protecting kids is far more important as we learned this week from President Obama.

Stop the Presses: The White House Opposes Google

President Obama is now taking this issue very seriously and has a specific legislative proposal in mind according to a White House press release–legislation that is based on the California SOPIPA law:

The Student Digital Privacy Act: The President is releasing a new legislative proposal designed to provide teachers and parents the confidence they need to enhance teaching and learning with the best technology — by ensuring that data collected in the educational context is used only for educational purposes.  This bill, modeled on a landmark California statute, builds on the recommendations of the White House Big Data and Privacy review released earlier this year, would prevent companies from selling student data to third parties for purposes unrelated to the educational mission and from engaging in targeted advertising to students based on data collected in school

So given that Google has had a tremendous amount of influence over White House technology policy since the first day of the Obama Administration, you would think that Google would be leading the way on the President’s proposal, yes?

Not so fast.  According to the Wall Street Journal Google is MIA on (and likely will oppose) the federal legislation just like Google opposed California’s SOPIPA:

Apple, Microsoft and Houghton Mifflin are among 75 companies that signed a Student Privacy Pledge endorsed Monday by President Obama.

One big tech name was missing: Google.

A Google spokeswoman said the company didn’t sign the pledge, which prescribes data-handling policies, because Google’s contracts and policies demonstrate a commitment to student privacy.

Really?  Education Week’s story on the analogous California SOPIPA law suggests Google’s “contracts and policies” point to a different reason: data harvesting from children:

A spokeswoman for Mountain View, Calif.-based online-services giant Google, which came under intense criticism earlier this year after acknowledging to Education Week that the company had been scanning and data-mining the contents of student email messages, said she could not comment on pending or active legislation. Google also declined to clarify whether it scans student email messages sent using its wildly popular Apps for Education tool suite in order to build profiles that might be used for commercial purposes other than targeted advertising, as was alleged in recent lawsuit against the company. California’s new law expressly prohibits vendors from using “information, including persistent unique identifiers, created or gathered by the operator’s site, service, or application, to amass a profile about a K-12 student except in furtherance of K-12 school purposes.” In April, Google announced that it had stopped ad-related scanning of student email messages for advertising purposes.

And why did it do that?  Voluntarily to protect kids?  No–because U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh pretty much ordered them to stop scraping data as part of the Gmail class action litigation.  Whether Google has actually stopped remains to be seen.

Google took the position that their users did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their communications through Gmail and Google Apps for Education, relying on Smith v. Maryland–that’s right, the same case that the National Security Agency used to excuse its behavior following Snowdengate.

After reviewing Google’s rather circular arguments that users of Google products (including non-user recipients of email sent using Google products) had consented to Google’s privacy policies because “everyone knows” what Google does.  You know, the we’re here, because we’re here, because we’re here, because we’re here defense. Judge Koh rejected Google’s position in her Sept. 26, 2013 order on Google’s motion to dismiss stating “[i]mportantly, Plaintiffs who are not Gmail or Google Apps users are not subject to any of Google’s express agreements.”  She went on to rule that:

[Google’s privacy policies] could mislead users into believing that user communications to each other or to nonusers were not intercepted and used to target advertising or create user profiles. As such, these Privacy Policies do not demonstrate explicit consent, and in fact suggest the opposite.

Google is now in yet another scrape–no pun intended–with a state over legislation that cuts into its profits.  So like any other company faced with legislation it doesn’t like, it will probably lobby and litigate in order to maintain its profits from what may well end up being illegal activities.  If the Street View case is any guide, the worst that will happen is Google will get a little wrist slap and pay a tiny fine under a non prosecution agreement it will promptly violate as a cost of doing business.

Repeat after me:  It’s the data domination, stupid.