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Breaking Privacy Promises is How Google Works - New Student Privacy Pledge

Google quietly signed the U.S. Student Privacy Pledge, which makes its new privacy representations legally enforceable by the FTC and State Attorneys General.

This is a much-under-appreciated, high-risk decision for Google because its new student privacy commitments conflict with Google’s Apps for Education contracts with schools, and it is antithetical to Google’s longstanding business model, practices, and privacy track record.

Google may already be breaking this privacy promise because it is “How Google Works” -- as you will learn below.  

Importantly, Google initially chose not to sign the Student Privacy Pledge with the original 75 companies that did. It only signed under brand duress after President Obama announced at the FTC that his Administration would “make sure that those schools and those parents know” which companies have not signed the Student Privacy Pledge.

Uncharacteristically, Google signed the pledge without any public relations announcement. When a company that is legendary for using public relations to build its brand as trustworthy like Google has, it very curious when Google does not trumpet such an obvious trust-enhancing development.  

Importantly, when Google was asked by the WSJ about its signing of the pledge, a Google spokeswoman said:  We’ve signed the pledge to reaffirm the commitments we’ve made directly to our customers.”  

That’s an untrue public representation.

This Student Privacy Pledge is actually a much stronger public commitment than the Google Apps for Education contractual commitments Google has made with school administrators. This new Google promise could become a big catalyst that will spotlight that Google’s Apps for Education contracts with schools suffer from gaping student privacy protection loopholes.

When school administrators study the fine print in the context of this new Student Privacy Pledge, they will learn they have been duped into unwittingly signing a contract that does not actually fully protect their students from data collection for the ultimate purposes of monetization as Google represents.  

Google’s new Student Privacy Pledge requires Google to not collect and use student information for profit. However, most people don’t know that Google’s Apps for Education’s contracts only agree to not advertise to students on Google’s “core” education products like Gmail, Docs, Drive, etc., but the contracts exclude many Google student-popular products like YouTube, Maps, Android, Play, Google+, Chrome, etc. that students clearly could need or demand in their Google Apps for Education experience.

This is a classic case of deceptive exceptions becoming the real rule.

Thus if students and school administrators are like most people, they would believe that the same privacy policy and protections would apply to all Google services that would be normally needed and used in schools, but they would be wrong.

How Google works is it is interested in creating the perception it respects privacy to protect its brand, but in reality it is, and has long been, a privacy scofflaw – see their privacy rap sheet if you doubt Google’s abysmal record of breaking its privacy promises over the last several years.  

Simply, Google’s current Apps for Education contracts allow Google to collect and retain lots of sensitive private information about students if they can collect it from student usage of many of Google’s most popular services: YouTube, Maps, Android, Play, Google+, Chrome, etc.

Google’s lawyers have also cleverly written huge data collection backdoors into the Google Apps for Education contract to make Google appear to be compliant with Education privacy laws like FERPA, when it technically does not. Google has a new big privacy problem here because their Student Privacy Pledge does not have the gaping loopholes that Google’s Apps for Education contracts have.

A big question here is will Google be forced to synch up its contracts with this new stronger student privacy pledge?     

Next this Student Privacy Pledge is antithetical to Google’s business model.

Google claims thirty million students and educators use Google Apps for Education. Google states it offers it for free now and in the future. Per Google: “We plan to keep the core offering of Google Apps for Education free. This includes user accounts for future incoming students.”

Last September, Google doubled down on its promise of free Google Apps for Education services, in announcing “Drive for Education, the 21st Century Backpack,” which provides free “unlimited storage.”

Importantly, if Google was providing Google Apps for Education purely for altruistic and charitable reasons, Google would claim all its costs of providing Google Apps for Education for free, as a charitable tax deduction. Google does not. If it’s not altruism or charity, it must be for business reasons.

Google has long maintained the fiction that if its computers and algorithms scan your private information it’s not an invasion or violation of privacy because a human did not see it. That’s how they justify that they secretly installed a Content One Box, (similar to the NSA’s PRISM data collection device) to intercept and scan (wiretap) all incoming emails for the purposes of advertising without telling anyone about it – including Google Apps for Education users.

When Google’s entire business is based on dominance in data collection for the purposes of advertising and machine learning, why should schools and privacy authorities believe that Google is donating all this cost and value to schools for nothing… not a tax deduction, not data collection for advertising or machine learning?

Second this Student Privacy Pledge is antithetical to how Google scales and manages its operations. Google’s business has long been known to be laser-focused on efficiency, speed and scale. What part of customizing students’ data and services -- with different and more complex data, product and service limitations -- advances efficiency, speed and scale? It does not.

Google has learned that it can get away with most whatever it wants to say, because no one yet can audit Google to check if they actually comply with most of their privacy promises.  

Lastly, Google is a serial privacy pledge violator. Its long privacy rap sheet of broken privacy promises is a living testament to how Google works.  

In sum, Google agreed, only under brand duress, to abide by the Student Privacy Pledge because Google knows its business model and business practices are inherently hostile to users’ privacy, including student users.

The fact that this pledge requires much more privacy protection to students than Google’s Apps for Education contracts currently require, threatens to expose Google’s privacy compliance charade and subject Google to yet another round of deserved privacy and fraud investigations and lawsuits.

Sadly, Google has gotten use to this cycle, because breaking privacy promises is “How Google Works.”


“How Google Works” series (A public service fact-check of Google’s bestseller: “How Google Works.”)

Part 1: Google Profiting from Hacked Celebrity Women Photos is “How Google Works” [10-6-14]

Part 2: Stealing from Competitors is “How Google Works” [10-20-14]

Part 3: Evading Sovereign Accountability is “How Google Works” [12-10-14]

Part 4: Bullying is “How Google Works” – Ask Law Enforcement [12-21-14]

Part 5: Deceptive Branding is “How Google Works” Ask Privacy Authorities [1-7-15]