Major Victory! Google Defaults K-12 Chromebooks and Products to Safety

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Global tech giant Google just announced major changes to make Chromebook devices safer for K–12 students—a move that will impact millions of kids worldwide! NCOSE and our partners have been fighting for this change over the past several years, ramping up efforts during the past year of forced virtual schooling.

Late last week, our contacts at Google shared that they will be implementing several of our suggestions for making Chromebooks and Google Education products safer for students.

Changes to Celebrate

As of September 1, 2021, the following settings on Google Chromebooks and products for K–12 will be Defaulted to Safety for all under the age of 18.*

  • SafeSearch: ON 
  • Enable Guest Browsing: OFF
  • Incognito Mode: OFF
  • SafeSites: ON

Google is also launching a new age-based access setting, making it easier for school administrators to tailor the experience for users for services like YouTube, Photos, and Maps. As of September 1, students under 18 will see changes in their Google products.

“We are constantly working to improve our products and services to make them even safer for children, students and families. Together with key experts, like NCOSE, we are committed to putting the safety, security and privacy needs of our users first. We’re excited that the changes announced today help provide schools around the world with controls to provide students with an even safer way to learn.”

Google spokesperson

*Can only be changed with administrative privileges.

Thank You! Now, Let’s Thank Google!

Congratulations, Partners! This change took hundreds of organizations uniting from around the globe and thousands of concerned citizens raising their voices with dedicated perseverance to get Google to finally #Default2Safety for our kids. Thank you for not giving up!

40+ Million Students Use Chromebooks

Google Chromebooks—a wildly popular laptop used in schools by 40+million students across the globe prior to the pandemic—became almost synonymous with virtual schooling during COVID-19. In 2020, Chromebook shipments to schools doubled as families, teachers, and children tried to keep education as in-tact as possible.

Chromebooks did help ensure teachers could keep teaching and students could keep learning from the safety of their homes, yet there were also dangerous aspects to these devices.

Google Products Known to Cause Harm

NCOSE and our allies have been consistently contacted throughout the years by parents, grandparents, teachers, IT administrators, and even the students themselves who suffered incredible trauma after being exposed to harmful content—and even predators—through school-issued Chromebooks. Those personal stories, as well as news articles, only increased this past year. While some blamed the schools, many (including NCOSE) felt the onus should be on Google to ensure their products being handed to children came with the highest levels of safety as the default. 

Google’s Role in Mitigating Harms

Yes, schools and parents need to be involved and educated. Yet even in the most privileged and resourced districts and households (to say nothing of underserved and marginalized communities!), parents and administrators are overwhelmed and stretched thin, often without the capacity or even time to understand and properly secure school-issued Chromebooks.

Our History of Advocacy with Google 

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has been working with Google since 2011 on various ways the tech giant could significantly stem sexual exploitation and abuse through its many products and services. Chromebooks for children in schools were often part of the conversation and NCOSE’s grassroots advocacy campaign, but nothing changed.

With the massive rise in students needing to use school assigned devices for their education during the COVID pandemic, NCOSE launched a petition at its annual Global #CESESummit in July of last year that continued to amass signatures throughout 2021, demanding Google do more with its seemingly limitless resources to protect kids and lift some burden from educators and caregivers.

Google Featured on 2021 Dirty Dozen List

Google’s Chromebooks were featured as a Dirty Dozen List target for 2021 due to the incredible impact they could have had in minimizing children’s risk during the pandemic. Even more concerning was the fact that they were planning on releasing 40 new Chromebook models for education in 2021 with no public plans to improve safety. NCOSE and its allies—shout out to Protect Young Eyes—also led legislative reform efforts, including Congressional hearings on child safety online, statewide device filtering bills, and federal legislation like the bi-partisan EARN IT Act.  

And of course, we met with Google several times to continue to share NCOSE’s and our allies’ concerns and recommendations; to bring survivor testimonies, public petitions, and parental pleas to Google.

And they listened.

Finally, a Victory!

Our contacts at Google noted that these significant policy changes regarding Chromebooks for kids were a direct result of NCOSE’s and our allies’ advocacy and public campaigns, sharing with us that the education provided by NCOSE of the risks facing children online and the testimonies NCOSE shared from affected families helped move Google to a better place around child safety and well-being.

These changes, while not 100% failsafe, will:

  • Drastically limit the amount of accidental and even purposeful exposure to harmful content and potentially dangerous people through school-issued Chromebooks used at school and/or at home.
  • Greatly ease the burden on administrators and teachers—who are often left without sufficient IT support—to try to find out how to TURN ON all the safety features.
  • Ease the mind of parents that they have a few less hurdles to jump when trying to keep their children safe, healthy, happy, and learning. 

On behalf of all of us, thank you Google. This time, you really lived up to your motto and “did the right thing.” 

4 ACTIONS TO TAKE:

  1. Thank Google for making these changes here. You can sign your name and add a comment about how meaningful this change is.
  1. Share the news with your schools and other parents via email and on social media. When people realize their voice changes Google, they will join many more efforts to change policies at mega corporations! 
  1. Read Google’s blog with more details here.
  1. Get ready to help move Apple to follow this industry-setting new standard on iPads distributed through our schools… Stay tuned! 

Thank you for not giving up on creating a safer world for our kids online!

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The Numbers

300+

NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.

100+

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.

93

NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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