In U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Google is facing a privacy lawsuit for its data-mining practices of students email in its Google Apps for Education program. Even though the ads are not served for Google Apps for Education users, Google itself admitted that it scanned emails sent and received by students who attend schools that use Apps for Education. Google is using the data to build a profile that could be used for ad targeting outside Google Apps.
The data-mining practices behind Google’s Gmail electronic-messaging service violate federal and state wiretap and privacy laws. Gmail is a key feature of Google Apps for Education, which has 30 million users worldwide and is provided by the company for free to thousands of educational institutions in the United States.
Student-data-privacy experts contend that the latter claim is contradicted by Google’s own court filings in the California suit. They describe the case as highly troubling and likely to further inflame rising national concern that protection of children’s private educational information is too lax.
“This should draw the attention of the U.S. Department of Education, the Federal Trade Commission, and state legislatures,” said Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, a Washington-based advocacy group. “Student privacy is under attack.”
Today, Google announced that they will stop scanning student emails. Bram Bout, director of Google for Education, said to WSJ that the company will no longer scan Gmail in Apps for Education, and won’t collect or use student data from Apps for Education for advertising purposes. Google is making similar changes to its Apps services for businesses and government users, Bout said.