A Danish City Built Google Into Its Schools—Then Banned It

Some children could adapt better without them than others. Throughout his career in education, Pederson has never heard a single parent complain about data protection. But after the Google ban, he did receive complaints—mostly from parents of dyslexic students, who rely on Chromebook tools such as AppWriter.

There might be ambivalence among many Danish parents—but not all. “I hope [the ban] spreads, as we are giving too much information to multinational corporations, who by their very nature are untrustworthy,” says Jan Gronemann, a parent of four whose children go to a school in Haslev, another part of Denmark, that uses Microsoft not Google. Like other Danish privacy activists and local business owners who spoke to WIRED, Gronemann is concerned that the data Google has access to about how young people behave online could enable them to be manipulated, for advertising or politics, later in life.

“If you know the zip code of an individual, if you know their economic output, if you know their birthday, what their behavior is when they go from Amazon to Disney to Walmart to Target, guess what? Your prediction ability is huge,” says Omino Gardezi, a former Disney consultant who now runs Lirrn, a privacy-focused education startup based in Copenhagen.

This local issue is also fanning a Europe-wide debate about what happens to European data in the hands of American tech companies. European courts have ruled multiple times that European data sent to the US can potentially be snooped on by intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency. Facebook-parent Meta has so far been the focus for concerns about data moved from the EU to the US. In July, the Irish data protection regulator said it will block this from happening. Meta has threatened to stop Europeans using services like Facebook and Instagram if that happens.

The Helsingør case is reminding locals that Google also sends some data overseas, and there is growing unease that this means Europeans’ data could be accessed by a future administration the bloc might not consider to be an ally. “Trump might be the next president again,” says Pernille Tranberg, cofounder of Danish think tank Data Ethics EU, who says she has been trying to convince Danish schools to use European school software such as Nextcloud for years. Google says it has strict standards for government disclosure requests, and it challenges them where appropriate. “We’re also supportive of EU and US efforts to find workable solutions to protect privacy and transatlantic data flows, which remain essential for the internet to function and for students to access the digital services they rely on every day,” says Google’s Ahtiainen.

Back in Helsingør, teachers at Bymidten school are not thinking about transatlantic data flows. Instead they are wondering if they will be able to function after the final decision on the Google case, which is due November 5. “We can’t do anything but wait,” says Pederson. But despite those concerns, he still wants answers.“What are they using the data of children in Denmark for?” he asks. “It’s very important that we have clarity on this one, so we can be assured that we do not sell the children to an international company.”

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