That’s Bob Bowden, director of The Cartel documentary, a “look at how a widespread national crisis manifests itself in the educational failures and frustrations of individual communities”.
Writing in the Huffington Post, “It turns out that the company sporting the motto ‘don’t be evil’ has been asking parents nationwide to disclose their children’s personal information, including Social Security Numbers, and recruiting schools to help them do it — all under the guise of an art contest”, he says.
Google’s kiddie data mining project is called Doodle-4-Google.
It’s a “competition where we invite K-12 students to use their artistic talents to think big and redesign Google’s homepage logo for millions to see”, says the world’s most (in)famous online advertising company.
“At Google, we believe that dreaming about future possibilities leads to tomorrow’s leaders and inventors, so this year we’re inviting U.S. kids to exercise their creative imaginations around the theme, ‘What I’d like to do someday … ‘
“Whether students want to find a cure for cancer or take a trip to the moon, it all starts with art supplies and some 8.5″ x 11″ paper. And, one lucky student artist will take home a $15,000 college scholarship and $25,000 technology grant for their school, among many other prizes.”
Cool, huh? Gargle helping kids to be all they can be, and, “What could be wrong with filling out a few entry forms?” – wonders Bowden. “A national, commercial database of names and addresses of American children, especially one that includes their dates of birth and SSNs, would be worth many millions to marketing firms and retailers.”
But “Of course, data collection is not the reason Google gives for doing this competition”, he says.
Of course not.
If that’s so, then why on earth would the contest’s original Parent Consent Form ask for the child’s city of birth, date of birth and last four digits of the child’s SSN? Along with complete contact info of the parents.
You see what Google knows and many parents don’t know is that a person’s city of birth and year of birth can be used to make a statistical guess about the first five digits of his/her social security number. Then, if you can somehow obtain those last four SSN digits explicitly — voila, you’ve unlocked countless troves of personal information from someone who didn’t even understand that such a disclosure was happening.
This kind of data can be linked with other databases to target advertising. It’s worth many times more than what Google will spend on prizes (each State Finalist gets a T-shirt!).
Bowden goes on to cover his extremities by saying there’s no evidence Google will “use or sell this information for marketing purposes” and “to be absolutely clear, there’s no evidence Google has done anything with this information at all, nefarious or otherwise”.
But, he states, “Some of the people who tipped me off to it were wondering if the solicitation of children’s Social Security Numbers was even legal. And so they sent emails to the Federal Trade Commission, the website InsideGoogle.com and a couple of other places. That email went out on February 17. Twenty-six hours later Google released an updated Parental Consent form without requiring the last four digits of the child’s SSN, although the form still inexplicably asks for the child’s city of birth.
“Meanwhile, the original PDF can still be found on lots of school websites, like this one. In other words, many schools are still distributing the original form, and many parents are no doubt still forking over their kids’ social security numbers to Google.”
The story quotes Google as stating >>>
This year we started accepting doodles from kids even if their school hadn’t registered for the contest. To help us keep entries distinct and remove duplicate entries from any particular student, we asked parents for limited information, including the last 4 digits of a student’s social security number. We later updated our forms when we recognized that we could sufficiently separate legitimate contest entries while requesting less information. To be clear, these last 4 digits were not entered into our records and will be safely discarded.
The city of birth helps us identify whether contestants are eligible for the contest, as winners must be either U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents of the U.S. The information isn’t used for any other purpose.
“Couple things” Bowden adds:
“1.) I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist by disposition, but doesn’t “these last 4 digits were not entered into our records and will be safely discarded,” sound like a contradiction? (How can they delete something that is not in their records?) Even taking just the first part, we’re supposed to believe Google didn’t enter demographic data that it had been supplied? Isn’t this the same Google that promotes itself as the master of targeted marketing campaigns?
“2.) If they simply want to limit the contest to citizens and permanent legal residents, why not ask that question as a “yes/no”? Then, they could ask more specific questions of the winners, right? Instead, Google’s wants every child’s city of birth upfront? That’s really necessary?
“Maybe the kids should all just say, ‘Springfield’.”
Don’t bother to stay tuned.
Huffington Post – Why Has Google Been Collecting Kids’ Social Security Numbers Under the Guise of an Art Contest?, February 22, 2011
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win ~ Mahatma Gandhi
World War III will be a global information war with no division between civilian & military participation ~ Marshall McLuhan
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