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Google Is Teaching Children How to Act Online. Is It the Best Role Model?

The New York Times: “The tech giant is positioning itself in schools as a trusted authority on digital citizenship at a moment when the company’s data-handling practices are under growing scrutiny – “Google is on a mission to teach children how to be safe online. That is the message behind “Be Internet Awesome,” a so-called digital-citizenship education program that the technology giant developed for schools. The lessons include a cartoon game branded with Google’s logo and blue, red, yellow and green color palette. The game is meant to help students from third grade through sixth guard against schemers, hackers and other bad actors. Google plans to reach five million schoolchildren with the program this year and has teamed up with the National Parent Teacher Association to offer related workshops to parents. But critics say the company’s recent woes — including revelations that it was developing a censored version of its search engine for the Chinese market and had tracked the whereabouts of users who had explicitly turned off their location history — should disqualify Google from promoting itself in schools as a model of proper digital conduct. Among other things, these critics argue, the company’s lessons give children the mistaken impression that the main threat they face online is from malicious hackers and bullies, glossing over the privacy concerns that arise when tech giants like Google itself collect users’ personal information and track their actions online.

As an analysis of Google’s curriculum published in Emerging Library & Information Perspectives, a graduate student journal at Western University in Ontario, put it, “‘Be Internet Awesome’ generally presents Google as impartial and trustworthy, which is especially problematic given that the target audience is impressionable youth.” In a statement, Julianne Yi, who leads the Google program, said it had “proven useful to kids, teachers, and families around the world,” and was supported by, among others, the National P.T.A., the International Society for Technology in Education and the Family Online Safety Institute. Of those groups, Google is a national sponsor of the National P.T.A., a financial supporter of the Family Online Safety Institute and a year-round mission sponsor of the International Society for Technology in Education, which promotes the use of technology in public schools…”

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