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Google Dangers Study Guide

By August 11, 2017 Uncategorized

Google Dangers Study Guide


Senator Markey Investigates Student Data Disclosures

Senator Edward Markey has sent a letter to the Education Department, requesting information on the “impact of increased collection and distribution of student data” on student privacy rights. Among other questions, Senator Markey asks why the Department made changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal student privacy law; whether the Department “performed an assessment of the types of information” that schools disclose to third party vendors; and whether students and their families can obtain their information held by private companies. The letter states, “By collecting detailed personal information about students’ test results and learning abilities, educators may find better ways to educate their students. However, putting the sensitive information of students in private hands raises a number of important questions about the privacy rights of parents and their children.” EPIC has sent a letter to the Senate and House Committees on Education, urging Congress to restore privacy protections for student data. For more information, see EPIC: Student Privacy and EPIC: EPIC v. The Department of Education.

Student Psychological Profiling in Federal Education Legislation, Testing, & Policy

Jun 29, 2015  Karen R. Effrem, MD – President of Education Liberty Watch & Executive Director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition

Uncle Sam is lately wearing a white coat and placing American students on the psychiatrist’s couch. The number of federal education bills, tests, programs and other policies promoting indoctrination and assessment of affective attitudes, beliefs, “mindsets,” “non-cognitive skills” and other non-academic traits is rapidly and alarmingly proliferating.  Here are the most recent and very concerning examples:

1)      The Every Child Achieves Act (S 1177) – This is the 792 page Senate version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization.  Some of the many examples of federal expansion of mental health screening in the schools include:

Training teachers who are not mental health professionals to mentally screen student

Doing special education (IDEA)-style behavioral monitoring and intervention school-wide without delineation between observation, suggestion, and treatment nor clear methods of parental consent and privacy protection for behavioral information.

The federal government is promoting the concept that schools taking on the functions of families and physicians by paying for schools to provide mental health care
They are even putting mental health in physical education

2)      The Student Success Act (HR 5) – The House version of the ESEA/NCLB reauthorization expands affective testing by omission instead of commission and also continues mental health programs for certain groups:

The rewrite of the section that discusses state standards, assessments and accountability leaves out the key protection that prohibits the federally mandated state tests that “evaluate or assess personal or family beliefs and attitudes.”  This was one of the few good pieces of language in No Child Left Behind.
Title I funding includes funding for coordination of all sorts of health and social services, including mental health.

3)      The Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA – S 227)

The Senate reauthorization bill for the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) that houses the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress also plans to allow “research on social emotional learning.” (See Section 132)  The 2002 reauthorization of this bill gave us the scourge of the state longitudinal databases and was extremely problematic at the time.

4)      Measuring Psychological Variables in the NAEP

Education Week reports that The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) intends to start collecting affective survey data on students who take the test in 2017:

“The nation’s premiere federal testing program is poised to provide a critical window into how students’ motivation, mindset, and grit can affect their learning… The background survey will include five core areas—grit, desire for learning, school climate, technology use, and socioeconomic status—of which the first two focus on a student’s noncognitive skills, and the third looks at noncognitive factors in the school. These core areas would be part of the background survey for all NAEP test-takers. In addition, questions about other noncognitive factors, such as self-efficacy and personal achievement goals, may be included…”

5)      A summary of the grant proposals in the preschool version of Race to the Top, called the Early Learning Challenge, had various states boasting about how they would profile and monitor our babies:

“California will offer additional provider training in assessing social – emotional learning and ensure greater access to developmental and behavioral screenings.”

“The state’s (Minnesota) existing birth-to-five child development standards will be aligned with K-12 standards, which will be expanded to include non-academic developmental domains for children ages five to 12.”

6)      A Federal  Register notice of a grant program called the Middle Grades Longitudinal Study is described and seeks to add social emotional assessment:

Title of Collection: Middle Grades Longitudinal Study of 2016-2017 (MGLS:2017) Item Validation and Operational Field Tests.

Abstract: The Middle Grades Longitudinal Study of 2016-2017 (MGLS:2017) is the first study sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), to follow a nationally-representative sample of students as they enter and move through the middle grades (grades 6-8). The data collected through repeated measures of key constructs will provide a rich descriptive picture of the academic experiences and development of students during these critical years and  allow researchers to examine associations between contextual factors and student outcomes. The study will focus on student achievement in mathematics and literacy along with measures of student socioemotional well being and other outcomes.

The problems with these proposals and efforts are numerous, both from the policy and medical/scientific viewpoints.  Here are just a few:

1)     These measures set up the federal government as arbiters of what is normal thought, behavior, belief, attitudes, and values in children, even very young children – The danger of this situation to freedom of thought and conscience is profound and cannot be over stated.  There is recent history of attempts to make racism and homophobia delusional disorders treated by antipsychotics in the most recent version of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5).  That “treatment” was forced on California state prison inmates in 2005 under that paradigm.  Extreme racism and homophobia were ultimately not added to the DSM, but given the widespread teaching of the issue, even in preschool an kindergarten coupled with the new Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage and statements by activists who want to attack expressions of religious conscience regarding homosexual unions as prejudice,  there is more than a little reason to be concerned.

2)     These socio emotional standards and assessments are extraordinarily vague, subjective, and difficult to apply to children, especially young children.  Here are some examples of expert opinion (See Child Mental Health Quotes and References for details):

“Without highly reliable, multi-method, multi-informant measurement batteries whose validity has been demonstrated for diagnosis, it will be difficult for a practitioner to justify the individual diagnosis of children’s personal qualities, such as self-control, grit, or growth mind-set,” was in an essay by two researchers that admit that the assessments are not valid and ready to be used for judging children, teachers and schools.

“At present, most psychiatric disorders lack validated diagnostic bio-markers, and although considerable advances are being made in the arena of neuro-biology, psychiatric diagnoses are still mostly based on clinician assessment.” [Translation: Psychiatric diagnosis is an educated guess.]

“Broad parameters for determining socioemotional outcomes are not clearly defined”

“Childhood and adolescence being developmental phases, it is difficult to draw clear boundaries between phenomena that are part of normal development and others that are abnormal.”

3)     Socio-emotional standards and screenings are leading to overmedication with psychotropic medication that can have brain damaging and life threatening side effects – Studies are finding alarming increases in medication of young children without adequate studies on the effects of these drugs on growing bodies and brains.  The drugs can cause suicidal thoughts and actions, violence, psychosis, stunted growth, brain damage, and a 25 year shortened life span.

4)     Data from these subjective assessments will be in an electronic dossier that will follow a child for life – The federal government already has much data due to contracts like PARCC and SBAC that require individually identifiable data to be given to the US DOE, through the linking of federally mandated state longitudinal databases, and via the regulatory gutting of Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.  Parents greatly opposed the InBloom database held by private entities and there is no evidence that this contained socioemotional data.  Wait until many parents understand how routinely their children’s minds will be probed.  In addition, given the willful misuse of citizen data by the IRS and NSA, and the inability of the federal government to protect the integrity of its employees’ data, there is plenty of reason for parents to be upset.  Also, at some point employers and universities will have or demand access to this data.

5)     Belatedly putting in parental consent requirements will not make profiling via academic assessments or routine mental screening in schools acceptable – We have already seen how the prohibitions on psychological assessment in the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) are sidestepped and the gaping loophole of the statute not applying to assessments and curriculum. The notion of parental consent will be used as a fig leaf to assuage concerns long enough for the government or corporations to figure out a way sidestep the rules.  Asking consent for something that is so constitutionally, legally and ethically wrong does not make it right.

6)     The rapidity and scope by which the Constitution, federal law, ethics, and parental autonomy are being shredded is breathtaking and very alarming, particularly with this issue – Parents are expected to submit their children to this kind of government profiling and psychological experimentation with no explanation, no way to express concern or opt their children out, no way to see the federally mandated academic statewide assessments , the NAEP or any of the international assessments that do much of this profiling to find out what was asked of their children.  Federal law currently prohibits federal government involvement in regular curriculum and standards, but somehow it is now fine for the federal government to mandate and support the assessment or screening or teaching of socioemotional topics, because they want to assess something that is ostensibly a positive trait or this will have an alleged benefit for a child?  This defies logic.

Short of shutting down the US Department of Education or at least the Institute for Education Sciences that houses the National Center for Education Statistics, the data mining and emotional profiling arm of the US DOE, we can halt the ESEA/NCLB and other federal legislative reauthorizations until there is an administration that is not so in favor of Common Core, expansive federal control, testing, profiling, and data mining.  The other very important and practical thing to do is to support Senator David Vitter’s Student Privacy Protection Act (SPPA) as a stand-alone bill. Data privacy and freedom of conscience are too important for this bill to be lost and eventually watered down in the monstrous reauthorization bills. This is the only legislation offered that truly protects against the psychological profiling described here while updating and strengthening FERPA from all of the weakening that happened during this administration. Our children deserve nothing less.

[NOTE:  A fully referenced and more detailed version of this article in PDF format is available at this link: Student Psychological Profiling in Federal Education Legislation – Footnoted]




1. Google’s for-profit surveillance problem

By Yasha Levine December 16, 2013


“We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

“Your digital identity will live forever… because there’s no delete button.”

—Eric Schmidt

Early last week, some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley announced that they had gotten together to form a new forward-thinking organization dedicated to promoting government surveillance reform in the name of “free expression” and “privacy.”The charade should have been laughed at and mocked — after all, these same companies feed on privacy for profit, and unfettered surveillance is their stock and trade. Instead, it was met with cheers and fanfare from reporters and privacy and tech experts alike. “Finally!” people cried, Silicon Valley has grown up and matured enough to help society tackle the biggest problem of our age: the runaway power of the modern surveillance state.

The Guardian described the tech companies’ plan as “radical,” and predicted it would “end many of the current programs through which governments spy on citizens at home and abroad.” Laura W. Murphy, Director of ACLU’s DC Legislative Office, published an impassioned blog post praising tech giants for urging President Barack Obama and Congress to enact comprehensive reform of government surveillance. Silicon Valley booster Jeff Jarvis could hardly contain his glee. “Bravo,” he yelped. “The companies came down at last on the side of citizens over spies.” And then added:

Spying is bad for the internet; what’s bad for the internet is bad for Silicon Valley; and — to reverse the old General Motors saw — what’s bad for Silicon Valley is bad for America.

But while leading tech and privacy experts like Jarvis slobber over Silicon Valley megacorps and praise their heroic stand against oppressive government surveillance, most still don’t seem to mind that these same tech billionaires run vast private sector surveillance operations of their own: hi-tech spying operations that vacuum up private information and use it to compile detailed dossiers on hundreds of millions of people around the world — and that’s on top of their work colluding and contracting with government intelligence agencies.If you step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s not hard to see that Silicon Valley runs on for-profit surveillance, and that it dwarfs anything being run by the NSA.

Last week, I wrote about Google’s Street View program, and how after a series of investigations in the US and Europe, we learned that Google had used its Street View cars to carry out a covert — and certainly illegal — espionage operation on a global scale, siphoning loads of personally identifiable data from people’s Wi-Fi connections all across the world. Emails, medical records, love notes, passwords, the whole works — anything that wasn’t encrypted was fair game. It was all part of the original program design: Google had equipped its Street View cars with surveillance gear designed to intercept and vacuum up all the wireless network communication data that crossed their path. An FCC investigation showing that the company knowingly deployed Street View’s surveillance program, and then had analyzed and integrated the data that it had intercepted.

Most disturbingly, when its Street View surveillance program was uncovered by regulators, Google pulled every crisis management trick in the book to confuse investors, dodge questions, avoid scrutiny, and prevent the public from finding out the truth. The company’s behavior got so bad that the FCC fined it for obstruction of justice.

The investigation in Street View uncovered a dark side to Google. But as alarming as it was, Google’s Street View wiretapping scheme was just a tiny experimental program compared to Google’s bread and butter: a massive surveillance operation that intercepts and analyzes terabytes of global Internet traffic every day, and then uses that data to build and update complex psychological profiles on hundreds of millions of people all over the world — all of it in real time. You’ve heard about this program. You probably interact with it every day. You call it Gmail.

Google launched Gmail in 2004. It was the company’s first major “log in” service and was aimed at poaching email users from Microsoft and Yahoo. To do that, Google offered one gigabyte of free storage space standard with every account. It was an insane amount of data at the time — at least several hundred times more space than what was being offered by Yahoo or Hotmail — and people signed up en masse. At one point, Gmail’s limited pre-public release invites were so desirable that at one point they fetched over $150 on eBay.

To tech reporters, Gmail’s free email service was nothing short of revolutionary. New York Times tech columnist David Pogue wrote: “One gigabyte changes everything. You no longer live in terror that somebody will send you a photo, thereby exceeding your two-megabyte limit and making all subsequent messages bounce back to their senders.”

And what about the fact that Gmail scanned your email correspondence to deliver targeted ads? Well, what of it?

Gmail users handed over all their personal correspondence to Google, giving the company the right to scan, analyze, and retain in perpetuity their correspondence in return for a gigabyte of storage, which even at that early stage already cost Google only $2 per gigabyte per year.

Selling the contents of our private and business life to a for-profit corporation in return for half a Big Mac a year? What a steal!

You’d be hard pressed to find a bum who’d sell out to Google that cheap. But most mainstream tech journalists weren’t that scrupulous, and lined up to boost Gmail to the public.

“The only population likely not to be delighted by Gmail are those still uncomfortable with those computer-generated ads. Those people are free to ignore or even bad-mouth Gmail, but they shouldn’t try to stop Google from offering Gmail to the rest of us. We know a good thing when we see it,” wrote Pogue in 2004.

But not everyone was as excited as Mr. Pogue.

Several privacy groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, were alarmed by Gmail’s vast potential for privacy abuse. In particular, EPIC was concerned that Google was not restricting its email scanning activities solely to its registered user base, but was intercepting and analyzing the private communication of anyone who emailed with a Gmail user:

“Gmail violates the privacy rights of non-subscribers. Non-subscribers who e-mail a Gmail user have ‘content extraction’ performed on their e-mail even though they have not consented to have their communications monitored, nor may they even be aware that their communications are being analyzed,” EPIC explained at the time. The organization pointed out that this practice almost certainly violates California wiretapping statues — which expressly criminalizes the interception of electronic communication without consent of all parties involved.

What spooked EPIC even more: Google was not simply scanning people’s emails for advertising keywords but had developed underlying technology to compile sophisticated dossiers of everyone who came through its email system. All communication was subject to deep linguistic analysis; conversations were parsed for keywords, meaning, and even tone; individuals were matched to real identities using contact information stored in a user’s Gmail address book; attached documents were scraped for intel — that info was then cross-referenced with previous email interactions and combined with stuff gleaned from other Google services, as well as third-party sources…

Here’s are some of the things that Google would use to construct its profiles, gleaned from twopatents company filed prior to launching its Gmail service:

  • Concepts and topics discussed in email, as well as email attachments
  • The content of websites that users have visited
  • Demographic information — including income, sex, race, marital status
  • Geographic information
  • Psychographic information — personality type, values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyle interests
  • Previous searches users have made
  • Information about documents a user viewed and or edited by the users
  • Browsing activity
  • Previous purchases

To EPIC, Google’s interception and use of such detailed personal information was clearly a violation of California law, and the organization called on California’s Attorney General who promised to investigate Google’s Gmail service. The Attorney General promised to look into the matter, but nothing much happened.Meanwhile, Gmail’s user base continued to rocket. As of this month, there are something like 425 million active users around the world using email services. Individuals, schools, universities, companies, government employees, non-profits — and it’s not just Gmail anymore.

After its runaway success with Gmail, Google aggressively expanded its online presence, buying up smaller tech companies and deploying a staggering number of services and apps. In just a few years, Google had suddenly become ubiquitous, inserting themselves into almost every aspect of our lives: We search through Google, browse the Web through Google, write in Google, store our files in Google and use Google to drive and take public transport. Hell, even our mobile phones run on Google.

All these services might appear disparate and unconnected. To the uninitiated, Google’s offering of free services — from email, to amazing mobile maps, to a powerful replacement for Microsoft Office — might seem like charity. Why give away this stuff for free? But to think that way is to miss the fundamental purpose that Google serves and why it can generate nearly $20 billion in profits a year.

The Google services and apps that we interact with on a daily basis aren’t the company’s main product: They are the harvesting machines that dig up and process the stuff that Google really sells: for-profit intelligence.

Google isn’t a traditional Internet service company. It isn’t even an advertising company. Google is a whole new type of beast: a global advertising-intelligence company that tries to funnel as much user activity in the real and online world through its services in order to track, analyze, and profile us: It tracks as much of our daily lives as possible — who we are, what we do, what we like, where we go, who we talk to, what we think about, what we’re interested in. All those things are seized, packaged, commodified, and sold on the market — at this point, most of the business comes from matching the right ad to the right eyeballs. But who knows how the massive database Google’s compiling on all of us will be used in the future?

No wonder that when Google first rolled out Gmail in 2004, cofounder Larry Page refused to rule out that the company would never combine people’s search and browsing history with their Gmail account profiles: “It might be really useful for us to know that information. I’d hate to rule anything like that out.” Indeed it was. Profitable, too.

It’s been almost a decade since Google launched its Gmail service, but the fundamental questions about the legality of the company’s surveillance operations first posed by EPIC have not been resolved.

Indeed, a class action lawsuit currently winding its way through California federal court system shows that we’ve not moved an inch.

The complaint — a consolidation of six separate class action lawsuits that had been filed against Google in California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, and Pennsylvania — accuses Google of illegally intercepting, reading, and profiting off people’s private correspondence without compensation. The lawsuit directly challenges Google’s legal right to indiscriminately vacuum up people’s data without clear consent, and just might be the biggest threat Google has ever faced.

Here’s how the New York Times described the case:

Wiretapping is typically the stuff of spy dramas and shady criminal escapades. But now, one of the world’s biggest Web companies, Google, must defend itself against accusations that it is illegally wiretapping in the course of its everyday business — gathering data about Internet users and showing them related ads.

…The Gmail case involves Google’s practice of automatically scanning e-mail messages and showing ads based on the contents of the e-mails. The plaintiffs include voluntary Gmail users, people who have to use Gmail as part of an educational institution and non-Gmail users whose messages were received by a Gmail user. They say the scanning of the messages violates state and federal antiwiretapping laws. Google has aggressively fought the lawsuit. It first convinced a judge to put it under seal — which redacted most of the complaint and made it unavailable to public scrutiny — and then made a series of disingenuous arguments in an attempt to get the get the lawsuit preemptively dismissed. Google’s attorneys didn’t dispute its for-profit surveillance activities. What they claimed was that intercepting and analyzing electronic communication, and using that information to build sophisticated psychological profiles, was no different than scanning emails for viruses or spam. And then they made a stunning admission, arguing that, as far as Google saw it, people who used Internet services for communication had “no legitimate expectation of privacy” — and thus anyone who emailed with Gmail users had given “implied consent” for Google to intercept and analyze their email exchange.

No expectation of privacy? Implied consent for surveillance?

Google’s claims were transparently disingenuous, and Judge Lucy Koh rejected them out of hand and allowed the lawsuit to proceed.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to comment on or analyze the contents of the class action lawsuit filed against Google, as the company redacted just about all of it. One thing is clear: the complaint goes beyond simple wiretapping and brings into question an even bigger concern: Who owns the digital personal information about our lives — our thoughts, ideas, interactions, personal secrets, preferences, desires and hopes? And can all these things be seized bit by bit, analyzed, packaged, commodified and then bought and sold on the market like any other good? Can Google do that? What rights do we have over our inner lives?

It’s scary and crazy. Especially when you think of kids born today: Their entire lives will be digitally surveilled, recorded, analyzed, stored somewhere, and then passed around from company to company. What happens to that information?

What happens to all this data in the future should be of serious concern. Not only because, with the right warrant (or in many cases without) the data is available to law enforcement. But also because in the unregulated hands of Google, our aggregated psychological profiles are an extremely valuable asset that could be used for almost anything.

EPIC points out that Google reserves the right to “transfer all of the information, including any profiles created, if and when it is merged or sold.” How do we know that information won’t end up in some private background check database that’ll be available to your boss? How do we know this information won’t be hacked or stolen and won’t fall into the hands of scammers and repressive dictators?

The answer is: We don’t. And these tech companies would rather keep us in the dark and not caring.

Google’s corporate leadership understands that increased privacy regulations could torpedo its entire business model and the company takes quite a lot of space on its SEC filing disclosing the dangers to its investors:

Privacy concerns relating to elements of our technology could damage our reputation and deter current and potential users from using our products and services…

We also face risks from legislation that could be passed in the future. For example, there is a risk that state legislatures will attempt to regulate the automated scanning of email messages in ways that interfere with our Gmail free advertising-supported web mail service. Any such legislation could make it more difficult for us to operate or could prohibit the aspects of our Gmail service that uses computers to match advertisements to the content of a user’s email message when email messages are viewed using the service. This could prevent us from implementing the Gmail service in any affected states and impair our ability to compete in the email services market… Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has not been shy about his company’s views on Internet privacy: People don’t have any, nor should they expect it. “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” he infamously told CNBC in 2009. And he’s right. Because true Internet privacy and real surveillance reform would be the end of Google.

And not just Google, but nearly every major consumer Silicon Valley company — all of them feed people’s personal data one way or another and depend on for-profit surveillance for survival.

Which brings me to Silicon Valley’s “Reform Government Surveillance” project.

The fact that the biggest, most data-hungry companies in Silicon Valley joined up in a cynical effort to shift attention away from their own for-profit surveillance operations and blame it all on big bad government is to be expected. What’s surprising is just how many supposed journalists and so-called privacy advocates fell for it.

Google’s New All-Seeing Satellites Have Huge Potential—For Good and Evil


Building SkySat-1 in the clean room of Skybox in Mountain View, CA, in 2013.
Photo: Spencer Lowell

The reach of Google’s online empire is hard to overstate. In a sense, the Google search engine is the loom through which the entirety of the public internet is woven. With tools like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs, the company also handles many of our private online tasks. Using the data generated by these services to target online ads, Google has built a business that generates tens of billions of dollars a year.

Now, with the $500 million purchase of Skybox, a startup that shoots high-res photos and video with low-cost satellites, Google can extend its reach far across the offline world. Thanks to its knack for transforming mass quantities of unstructured data into revenue-generating insights, the unprecedented stream of aerial imagery to which the company is gaining access could spark a whole new category of high-altitude insights into the workings of economies, nations, and nature itself…


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