A Danish city built Google into its schools and then banned it

Some children might adapt better without them than others. During his career in education, Pederson has never heard a single parent complain about data protection. But after the Google ban, he did get complaints, especially 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] spreads because we give too much information to multinational companies, which are by nature unreliable,” said Jan Gronemann, a parent of four whose children attend a school in Haslev, another part of Denmark, that uses Microsoft and not Google . Like other Danish privacy activists and local entrepreneurs who have spoken to WIRED, Gronemann is concerned that the data Google has access to about how young people behave online could manipulate them later in life for advertising or politics.

“If you know a person’s zip code, 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 power is huge,” says Omino Gardezi, a former Disney consultant who now runs Lirrn, a privacy-focused education startup in Copenhagen.

This local issue also sparks a European debate about what happens to European data in the hands of US tech companies. European courts have ruled multiple time European data sent to the US could potentially be intercepted 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 August, Norway said that Meta should be fined for sending data from Europeans to the US. In July, Ireland’s data protection regulator said it block this from happening. Meta has threatened to prevent Europeans from using services like Facebook and Instagram if that happens.

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

Back in Helsingør, Bymidten school teachers don’t think about transatlantic data flows. Instead, they wonder if they will be able to function after the final decision on the Google case, which is expected on November 5. “We can’t help but wait,” Pederson says. But despite those concerns, he still wants answers. “What do they use the data from children in Denmark for?” 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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