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Student privacy laws scrutinized in Google controversy
MONDAY, MARCH 31, 2014 23:13 PM

Earlier this year, Google, the Internet-based software and technology manufacturer, came under fire for acknowledging that it had scanned emails sent between students, teachers and school officials. The controversy comes at a crucial moment in education reform when the successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) relies heavily on teachers using technology to build curricula based on the new academic guidelines. Advocates of student data privacy greatly oppose any interference with the basic rights held by students and their families, and believe the lines are blurring between effective integration of educational software and intrusion on privacy.

Complaints against Google
According to the official complaint filed against the Internet giant, Google illegally scanned millions of emails. The complaint also suggests the company is using student information to develop profiles that would make it easier to create targeted advertising. Advocates of student data privacy argue that the data mining practices the company used to gather information on students are in violation of the federal and state laws that prohibit wiretapping and access to privileged information.

Legal advisors of the plaintiffs focused on the mining of Google's Gmail application, a main component of Google Apps for Education. The platform has more than 30 million users worldwide and was provided for free to thousands of academic institutions across America.

Google representatives state that its purposes are all aboveboard. In addition to claiming that no illegal actions took place, the company's representatives said the data is being used for different reasons that do include potential advertising, but is part of an automated protocol that scans all emails within the Apps for Education network that cannot be disabled. Even customers who don't want to receive ads remain subject to the process.

Arguments against Google data mining policies
Advocates of privacy rights assert that under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, no third-party entity may see or otherwise access students' educational records without the expressed consent of the students' parents or guardians. The legal advisors of the plaintiffs argue that these restrictions were put into place to prevent schools from releasing student records to companies that would use information for non-academic purposes.

Future challenges to student privacy laws
Whether Google's practices violate federal and state laws will continue to be controversial. However, the massive influx of information generated from schools using current "freemium" business models makes upholding privacy laws as they exist today difficult to achieve.