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

Some children might adjust better than others without them. Throughout his career in education, Pederson has never heard a single parent complain about privacy. But after Google’s ban, he received complaints – mostly from parents of dyslexic students who rely on Chromebook tools like AppWriter.

There may be ambivalence among many Danish parents – but not all. “I hope [the ban] spread because we give multinationals too much information that is inherently untrustworthy,” says Jan Gronemann, a parent of four whose children attend a school in Haslev, another part of Denmark, that teaches Microsoft and not Google used. Like other Danish privacy activists and local business owners who spoke to WIRED, Gronemann is concerned that the data Google has access to about young people’s online behavior could mean they could be manipulated for advertising or politics later in life .

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“If you know a person’s zip code, if you know their economic performance, if you know their birthday, what their behavior is like going from Amazon to Disney to Walmart to Target, you know what? Their predictive ability is tremendous,” says Omino Gardezi, a former Disney consultant who now runs Lirrn, a privacy-focused education startup based in Copenhagen.

This local edition also sparks a Europe-wide debate about what happens to European data in the hands of American tech companies. European courts have repeatedly ruled that European data sent to the US could potentially be spied on by secret services such as the National Security Agency. Facebook parent Meta has been at the center of concerns about the data being moved from the EU to the US. In August, Norway said Meta should be fined for sending data from Europeans to the US. In July, the Irish Data Protection Authority said it would prevent this. Meta has threatened to block Europeans from using services like Facebook and Instagram if that happens.

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The Helsingor case is a reminder to locals that Google is also sending some data abroad, and there is growing unease that this means a future government, which the bloc may not view as an ally, could access Europeans’ data. “Trump could be the next president again,” says Pernille Tranberg, co-founder of the Danish think tank Data Ethics EU, which claims to have been trying for years to convince Danish schools to use European school software like Nextcloud. Google says it has strict standards for regulatory disclosure requests and challenges them when necessary. “We also support EU and US efforts to find workable solutions to protect privacy and transatlantic data traffic, which remain essential to the functioning of the internet and students’ access to the digital services they rely on every day says Ahtiainen of Google.

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Back in Helsingør, the teachers at the Bymidten school are not thinking about transatlantic data flows. Instead, they’re wondering if they’ll still work after the final decision in the Google case, which is due November 5. “There’s nothing we can do but wait,” says Pederson. But despite those concerns, he still wants answers. “What do they use children’s data for in Denmark?” he asks. “It is very important that we have clarity on this so that we can be sure that we are not selling the children to an international company.”

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