Google's new privacy policies and education

I had the chance to appear on the NPR program All Things Considered this weekend and was part of a roundtable discussion with the host, Guy Raz, and Lori Andrews, author of I Know Who You Are And I Saw What You Did. We talked about Google’s new privacy policies and their impact on consumers. If you click the show link, you can read the summary of their feature as well as listen to the broadcast (the audio is embedded at the top of the page – I come on for the last 4 minutes or so, so be sure to keep listening!).

Where does this begin to affect education, though? It affects students and teachers in a few ways:

  • We need to play an active role in teaching our students about their digital footprints and the potential impacts of their online activities; while I argued on ZDNet and NPR that the changes Google is proposing will actually have many benefits in terms of convenience and the ability to find relevant data on the web, there are some potential gotchas that can be used as examples with our students.
  • Google Apps for Education is widely used in K12, private, and higher education schools, and, although Google’s Education Apps don’t display ads (the initial place where we will see the effects of the changes), we should expect to see hooks between various Google Services begin to emerge.
  • Teachers surfing the web while logged into their personal accounts can expect to see much tighter connections between their searches, emails, documents, etc., and the ads displayed on-screen. Thus, for a teacher who searches for “why high school students are evil” (to pick a fairly benign example) and then turns on his projector to show a particular website to his students, there may be ads displayed that are directly tied to that search and that may offend students.

More than anything, we need to understand that this model of using our behaviors online to deliver better search results, more targeted ads, and enhanced experiences will become the new norm online. Google just happens to have been the first company to be really transparent about its intentions. Without this sort of integration, Web 3.0 will never come to be, but we owe it to ourselves and our students to understand the potential price we’ll pay for increased usability and utility on the web.


Chris is a full-time online teacher since then, focusing on teaching Business English to Adults. Rather than pushing the boundaries of technology, Chris seeks to simplify the online learning process by focusing on authentic human connections as a way to make online learning accessible for learners of all ages.

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