Cloud Leads Letter Demanding Answers from Google and Microsoft on Student Safety & Data Collection

By: Committee on Oversight and Reform Press Release

WASHINGTON—Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy Ranking Member Michael Cloud (R-Texas) and several Republican lawmakers today wrote Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Google CEO Sundar Pichai requesting information about the safety and data collection practices for programs used by students, teachers, and schools. The Republicans are raising concerns over the use of student data and the unsupervised access to online forums in which students can talk to people of all ages, including complete strangers.

In the letter to Microsoft, Republicans outlined concerns with Microsoft Education, which collects student data used for advertising and offers children the ability to converse with people outside of their classrooms. The letter sent to CEO Nadella is available here.

“Utilization of online systems like Microsoft Education has increased substantially through the duration of this pandemic. This is particularly concerning because it is unclear who children are communicating with and how data collected from children are being used,” wrote the Republicans to Microsoft CEO Nadella. “Children continue to spend increased time online as schools remain shuttered across the country. Parents should be able to protect their children online and monitor their activities to ensure they are not accessing inappropriate content or being targeted in any way. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Of particular concern, Microsoft’s terms state children can access communication services, like Outlook and Skype, and can freely communicate and share data with other users of all ages. This raises serious concerns about who children are communicating with during the school day, particularly when many working parents have other obligations.”

In the letter to Google, Republicans raised concerns over the collection of student data, including geographic location. While the platform allows parents to request and remove data, there is a substantial lack of clarity surrounding parental consent for using the data and it’s unclear how accessible it is for parents to request the deletion of their child’s information. The letter to CEO Pichai is available here.

“More than 50 million students, teachers, and administrators utilize Google’s classroom system, and it is unclear what data is being collected from children and how it is being used,” wrote the Republicans to Google CEO Pichai. “Of particular concern, is the lack of clarity surrounding parental consent for collection of personally identifiably information such as geolocation. While Google’s terms state that parents can request access to their student’s data, export it, and request it be deleted through the school administrator, it is not clear how accessible this option is or how easily it can be done … We are interested to learn more about how this data, collected from academic institutions, students, and educators, is utilized by Google and whether Google is protecting student’s data from improper use.”

Subcommittee Ranking Member Cloud and Republican lawmakers are requesting documentation and a briefing from both Google and Microsoft regarding the companies’ educational tools and its efforts to protect students.

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