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Code Club founder quits in Google privacy row


One of the founders of an after-school club that paved the way for the introduction of coding to the national curriculum has quit in a row over student privacy.

Code Club was set up in 2012 to teach programming skills to primary pupils and its volunteers now work in more than 2,000 schools nationwide. It has also expanded into Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and the Netherlands, among other countries.

But last night co-founder Linda Sandvik announced she has resigned from the organisation after she refused to be gagged from criticising its sponsors, which include tech giant Google.

Ms Sandvik, a web designer, said she had been given an ultimatum by Code Club’s board that she had to stop making negative remarks about its sponsors or resign. “After careful consideration, I have handed in my resignation,” she said in a resignation statement posted online.

She has been particularly outspoken in her criticism of Google, which has acknowledged scanning millions of email messages sent by student users of its Apps for Education tools for purposes including potential advertising.

Google is among Code Club’s principal sponsors and in a Twitter exchange earlier this month Ms Sandvik wrote that she was “not happy” with the funding arrangements.

Announcing her resignation, she said Code Club’s board had told her that “if someone asks me about x’s involvement in corporate mass surveillance where x is a Code Club sponsor (eg Google), I should answer: ‘I do not want to get into the specifics of any particular corporation.’”

She said she had been told to state that she was fully behind the board’s view that the sponsor concerned was a “tremendous partner.”  She added: “I’m not comfortable with lying and so it is in my best interest to resign.”

She said just because Google – which has a corporate motto of ‘Don’t be evil’ – did some good things it did not mean it was above criticism.

“We should not accept that privacy no longer exists, just because corporations doing mass surveillance also teach kids to code,” she said.

“I cannot stay silent about large corporations infringing on human rights, and I believe it is my moral obligation to speak out against it.”

Ms Sandvik’s co-founder, Clare Sutcliffe, remains as Code Club chief executive and is one of three continuing members of the board.

Code Club’s supporters include the inventor of the worldwide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee and its success helped prepare the ground for the introduction of coding skills onto the primary curriculum.

Earlier this year Code Club launched a training programme to teach coding skills to primary teachers, funded with the help of a £120,000 grant from Google. Code Club also receives funding from the Department for Education.

In a blog in response to Ms Sandvik’s resignation, Code Club said it was independent and non-political but board members had a duty to act in the organisation’s best interests.

“All of our views are our own and are neither directed nor constrained by our sponsors. Our sponsors do not influence how Code Club runs as an organisation and have no hand in its management,” it said.

Code Club did not endorse any products or services, but without the help of its supporters it would not be able to offer free after-school clubs, it said.

Ms Sandvik did not respond to a request to talk to TES about her resignation.

After being contacted by TES, Google denied putting pressure on Code Club to stop any criticism of its activities. A spokesperson said: “We have not asked Code Club or its board to refrain from criticising us.”

Related stories: 

Duke of York backs hacking competition to show pupils that coding is 'fun, not geeky' - March 2014

More than a million students start programming as part of Hour of Code - Feb 2014

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