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



Danish city of Helsingr banned Google’s education products on July 14, resulting in disruption when schools reopened in August. Around half of the country’s schools use Google, and some students in the city get their first Chromebook at the age of 6. The data protection regulator found that local schools didn’t really understand what Google was doing with students’ data. Around 8,000 students were blocked from using Chromebooks that had become a central part of their daily education. Google declined to comment on the issue. Schools tried to fix




Morgan Meaker The small Danish city of Helsingør is not a place usually in national news headlines.


Until now, most visitors come here to catch the ferry to nearby Sweden or to visit the castle where Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Hamlet was set.


But the news crews arrived with the start of the new school term in August, to capture the chaos caused when local schools banned Google.


Google’s education products—its Chromebook laptops and school software—are deeply embedded in Denmark’s education system.


Around half of the country’s schools use Google, and some students in Helsingør get their first Chromebook at the age of 6. So when Helsingør banned those products on July 14, the result was widespread disruption when schools reopened the following month.


Some local children complained they were so unused to pen and paper they couldn’t read their own handwriting.


Denmark’s data protection regulator found that local schools did not really understand what Google was doing with students’ data and as a result blocked around 8,000 students from using the Chromebooks that had become a central part of their daily education.


This chaos had its roots back in August 2019, when one local 8-year-old approached his father with a problem.


One of his classmates, he said, had used the 8-year-old’s YouTube account to write a “very rude” comment under another person’s video, and the son was panicking about the possible consequences.


He was worried he would be punished for harassment or become the target of an online revenge campaign.


His father, Jesper Graugaard, was initially confused; he hadn’t set up a YouTube account for his son, and he hadn’t given the school permission to create one either.

彼の父親であるJesper Graugaardは当初混乱していました。彼は息子のためにYouTubeアカウントを設定しておらず、学校も作成する許可を与えていませんでした。

His family was “proudly analog”; his three children don’t have their own smartphones.


So when Graugaard realized that his son (who he declines to name) had a YouTube account that publicly listed his full name, school, and class, he was shocked and immediately contacted his son’s school.


Staff there, he says, tried to wave the issue away as a mistake with private filters they could easily fix.


Google declined to comment on the specifics of this case but said schools’ IT staff are typically in charge of which Google services students can access.


But Graugaard was not reassured.


This stay-at-home dad—who had never before been involved in any kind of activism—embarked on a three-year campaign to fix what he considered to be a major flaw in the relationship between the Danish public school system and Google.


It was his official complaint to Denmark’s data protection regulator, Datatilsynet, in December 2019 that inspired the Google ban in Helsingør.


And his constant efforts to speak to local media and politicians have helped create one of the biggest debates ever to take place in Denmark about how to protect Danish data and have unleashed growing skepticism about the role of American companies in Europe’s public sector.


The Google ban was partly imposed because the data protection regulator discovered Helsingør never carried out a full risk assessment for Google’s school products before using them, as required under Europe’s GDPR privacy law, according to Allan Frank, IT security specialist at Datatilsynet.

DataTilsynetのITセキュリティスペシャリストであるAllan Frankによると、データ保護規制当局がHelsingørを使用する前にGoogleの学校製品の完全なリスク評価を実施しなかったことを発見したため、Googleの禁止が部分的に課されました。

Schools that were plunged into chaos by the ban, however, received a respite on September 8, when the ban was suspended for two months, allowing students to keep using their Chromebooks while Helsingør and Google negotiate what happens next.


Featured Video What Happens to Your Data After You Die?


Steven Levy Dhruv Mehrotra Emily Mullin Julian Chokkattu It’s up to Helsingør to get Google to mend its products to be in line with GDPR, says Frank.

Steven Levy Dhruv Mehrotra Emily Mullin Julian Chokkattuは、GoogleをGDPRに沿って修理させるのはHelsingør次第です、とフランクは言います。

Helsingør municipality did not reply to WIRED’s request for comment.


But Google implies it’s the municipality that needs to improve.


“We’re working with Helsingør municipality to answer questions, improve their technical settings, and share best practices from other European schools that have done risk assessments and use our products,” says Alexandra Ahtiainen, head of Google for Education for Northern Europe.

「私たちはHelsingør自治体と協力して、質問に答え、技術的な設定を改善し、リスク評価を行った他のヨーロッパの学校のベストプラクティスを共有し、当社の製品を使用しています」と、北ヨーロッパの教育のためのGoogleの責任者であるAlexandra Ahtiainen氏は述べています。

If those negotiations fail, and the ban is reinstated, there is a chance it will apply not just to Helsingør but to schools all over Denmark.


So far, 45 other municipalities have been in contact with Datasilynet about concerns related to their Google products, says Frank.


When Graugaard started his campaign, he was not worried about Google products specifically.


“My concern was when I put a child into public school, private personal data is not allowed to go public without my consent,” he says.


“I’m just a dad.


I didn’t understand the seriousness of the case.” But he now finds Google’s involvement in Danish public schools sinister, and he wants the company out of the system.


“Everything [children do] in school is in the cloud, via Workspace, which means everything they write in their machine is sent to Google,” he says.


“We have given Google access to a whole generation.” The main issue Graugaard has highlighted is that they don’t really understand what students’ Google data is used for or where it goes.


“Google is always saying, we don’t use the data of pupils for targeted advertising.


We do not sell the data to third parties,” says Jesper Lund, chair of digital rights group IT Pol Denmark.

データを第三者に販売していません」と、デジタル権利グループIT Pol Denmarkの議長であるJesper Lund氏は述べています。

But there is concern that Google does use students’ data for other purposes, such as improving its services or training artificial intelligence, he adds.


Bymidten School is a modern red-brick building in central Helsingør, just a short walk from the Øresund strait, the stretch of water that separates Denmark and Sweden.

Bymidten Schoolは、ヘルシンゴル中部にあるモダンな赤レンガの建物で、デンマークとスウェーデンを分離する水域であるØresund海峡からすぐの散歩です。

An air of uncertainty now hangs over the school, which got a taste of a future without Google during the two-month ban.


Teachers were forced to discard all their digital lesson plans and instead fetch discarded books out of the cellar, according to Anders Korsgaard Pedersen, who leads Bymidten’s middle school.

Bymidtenの中学校を率いるAnders Korsgaard Pedersenによると、教師はすべてのデジタルレッスン計画を捨て、代わりに廃棄された本をセラーから取り出しました。

In the weeks that followed, children were forced to adapt to pen and paper, while their Chromebooks—which had been deactivated by IT staff—sat useless at home.


The whole saga has been a huge dilemma for schools like his, says Pederson, who believes schools don’t have the resources or expertise to be GDPR compliant.


“On the one hand, we really want to take care of students’ data,” he says.


“I know from my [previous] job as a consultant that the data agreements with Google are not 100 percent transparent.


And somehow, as a country, we somehow accepted it.” But he also wants to run a functioning, 21st-century school.


“We have put ourselves in a situation where we actually pretty much rely on Chromebooks,” he says.


Some children could adapt better without them than others.


Throughout his career in education, Pederson has never heard a single parent complain about data protection.


But after the Google ban, he did receive complaints—mostly from parents of dyslexic students, who rely on Chromebook tools such as AppWriter.


There might be ambivalence among many Danish parents—but not all.


“I hope [the ban] spreads, as we are giving too much information to multinational corporations, who by their very nature are untrustworthy,” says Jan Gronemann, a parent of four whose children go to a school in Haslev, another part of Denmark, that uses Microsoft not Google.


Like other Danish privacy activists and local business owners who spoke to WIRED, Gronemann is concerned that the data Google has access to about how young people behave online could enable them to be manipulated, for advertising or politics, later in life.


“If you know the zip code of an individual, 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 ability is huge,” says Omino Gardezi, a former Disney consultant who now runs Lirrn, a privacy-focused education startup based in Copenhagen.

あなたの予測能力は巨大です」と、コペンハーゲンに拠点を置くプライバシーに焦点を当てた教育スタートアップであるLirrnを運営している元ディズニーコンサルタントのOmino Gardeziは言います。