How to Keep Google From Spying on Your Kid's Chromebook

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Schools love to hand out Chromebooks to students, but they may not be happy to find out that Google’s low-priced notebooks log student Web activity and send the records to the company’s servers.

The Chrome operating system's Sync feature, turned on by default on educational Chromebooks, lets Google collect records of students' Web browsing histories, search-engine results, YouTube viewing habits and saved passwords -- as most Web browsers normally do.

Yesterday (Dec. 1), the San Francisco-based public-advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, claiming that such data collection violates the Student Privacy Pledge, a voluntary agreement Google signed earlier this year. The pledge states that signatories will "not collect, maintain, use or share student personal information beyond that needed for authorized educational/school purposes, or as authorized by the parent/student."

The EFF doesn't claim that Google uses the collected data to target advertisements, or shares it with third parties, but EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo said in an EFF statement that Google nevertheless "uses it for the company’s own purposes," adding that "minors shouldn't be tracked or used as guinea pigs, with their data treated as a profit center." 

The head of one of the two organizations that created the Student Privacy Pledge disagreed.

"We have reviewed the EFF complaint but do not believe it has merit," said Jules Polonetsky, a well-known digital-privacy advocate and executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, in an official statement. "Many schools rely on Sync so that multiple students have ready access to their accounts and settings on the same device. We understand that any data collected is not used for behavioral advertising and all other data uses are aggregated and anonymous."

In a statement given to the Associated Press, Google said, "Our services enable students everywhere to learn and keep their information private and secure."

For now, educational Chromebooks collect data in an opt-out manner. If you want to stop a school Chromebook from sending data to Google, here is a step-by-step walkthrough on how to do so.

How to Keep Google From Spying on Your Kid's Chromebook

1. Click on the user photo icon in the right corner of the screen.

2. Select Settings.

3. Under People, click on Advanced sync settings.

4. Click on Sync everything.

5. Select Choose what to sync.

6. Uncheck the boxes next to Apps, Autofill, Bookmarks, Extensions, History, Passwords, Settings, Themes & wallpapers and Open Tabs.

7. Click OK.

8. Select Show advanced settings to reveal the rest of the menu.

9. Under Passwords and forms, uncheck "Enable Autofill to fill out web forms in a single click" and "Offer to save your Web passwords."

10. Under Privacy, uncheck "Use a web service to help resolve navigation errors," Also uncheck the following: "Use a prediction service to help complete searches and URLs typed in the address bar or the app launcher search box," "Prefetch resources to load pages more quickly," "Automatically report details of possible security incidents to Google," "Use a web service to help resolve spelling errors" and "Automatically send usage statistics and crash reports to Google."

11. Check "Send a 'Do Not Track' request with your browsing traffic."

12. Select OK to agree.

13. Select “Content settings…”

14. Under Cookies, select “Keep local data only until you quit your browser” and "Block third-party cookies and site data."

15. Under Protected content, uncheck “Allow identifiers for protected content”


Now your kid's Chromebook won't be sending data back to Google!

screenshot 2015 12 02 at 10.37.25 am

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Author Bio
Henry T. Casey
Henry T. Casey,
After graduating from Bard College a B.A. in Literature, Henry T. Casey worked in publishing and product development at Rizzoli and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, respectively. Henry joined Tom's Guide and LAPTOP having written for The Content Strategist, Tech Radar and Patek Philippe International Magazine. He divides his free time between going to live concerts, listening to too many podcasts, and mastering his cold brew coffee process. Content rules everything around him.
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Add a comment
  • Harold Says:

    I know this is an oldish post, but I wonder if Chis would be any more concerned about Google in light of recent events--the fired engineer who spoke of the lack of (and punishment of) diversity there, the demonitization and "hiding" of videos on Youtube, etc.

    Chris is obviously unfamiliar with economics and the principle of "no free lunch". Of course Google can find uses for a teen's or anyone else's browsing history, nefarious or otherwise. It is only prudent to guard against these uses as much as possible.

    Hats off to Mr. Casey for an instructive article. Many more people should read and heed it.

  • Chris Says:

    This is ridiculous. How could that be a good thing? Nice job, so now, if anything goes wrong, you have absolutely no backup whatsoever. The whole entire POINT of a chromebook is that the chromebook itself is obsolete --- you can log-on to any chromebook anywhere, and within seconds all your data is synced to your device. It's so BENEFICIAL. They are NOT SPYING; I can't describe that as anything but paranoid. All they are trying to do is make it so you have access to all your stuff anywhere. I would have thought that was obvious in the "advanced sync settings" page, where it shows you all the things that YOU CAN'T ACCESS ON OTHER DEVICES IF YOU CHOOSE NOT TO SYNC THEM. Honestly, what could they possibly do with teen browsing history? Do you think they ACTUALLY CARE about what ONE individual person looks at? Do you think they have the TIME to go through that much data?
    The answer is, no they don't. They have better things to do. Sure, the data's on their servers; but the only person who ever accesses your data is you (unless there's something like a crime investigation or something). You go ahead and and make your life difficult. It's your life, after all. But I would really advise against it.

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