Google Says New Privacy Policy Has Little Impact on Education Partners

PrivateGoogle’s new consumer privacy policy, introduced today, shares user data across the company’s stable of Web services in an effort to deliver better search results and advertisements. Though privacy advocates have criticized the revised document, which makes it easier for Google to bring together data on individual users, the company said its academic partners had little reason to be concerned.

Universities that use Google’s education platform for e-mail or other applications have contracts that determine how student data can be used. The terms of those agreements will supersede Google’s privacy policy, the company said.

Amit Singh, Google’s vice president for enterprise, said in a statement that institutions using the company’s suite of applications, which includes e-mail, calendars, and documents, will see no changes to their contractual agreements. But there is one wrinkle: A Google spokesman confirmed that if university network administrators have enabled extra optional services on their domains, like Google+, YouTube, or the company’s blogging platform, the use of those additions will be governed by the new privacy policy.

When asked if Google’s rewrite caused their universities to modify agreements with the search giant before the revised policy was introduced, several technology administrators interviewed by The Chronicle said that they believed their arrangements provided sufficient protections for students and that they hadn’t made any changes.

“From our perspective, the agreement we have in place is adequate, and if we need to take further action we’ll continue to monitor the situation and act accordingly,” said Wendy Woodward, director of technology support services at Northwestern University. Ms. Woodward added that Northwestern has enabled few services outside the core group. When those additions were turned on, students were given a “buyer beware” warning that they’d be using consumer products subject to Google policy. The added services look different from Northwestern’s other applications so that users don’t get confused, Ms. Woodward said.

Tracy Schroeder, vice president for information systems and technology at Boston University, said in an e-mail that her institution’s contract gives students protection beyond Google’s general policy and will remain unchanged. The consumer services that may come into play “are not core services that are of concern to us at this time,” she wrote.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by Meg Pickard]

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