Google Vows To Stop Scanning Student Emails

Apr 30, 2014 04:33 PM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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Google has stopped scanning Gmail messages sent by the more than 30 million students who use its Apps for Education software, the company said in a blog post published Wednesday.

The suite, which comprises Gmail, calendar, documents and spreadsheets, formerly had optional advertisements in emails, but the company has nixed ads in the education package to protect student privacy, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

"We've permanently removed the "enable/disable" toggle for ads in the Apps for Education Administrator console. This means ads in Apps for Education services are turned off and administrators no longer have the option or ability to turn ads in these services on," Bram Bout, director of Google's education program, said in the blog post.

"We've permanently removed all ads scanning in Gmail for Apps for Education, which means Google cannot collect or use student data in Apps for Education services for advertising purposes."

Education Week suggested that an impending lawsuit was an incentive for the change. Plaintiffs have sued Google for mining their emails and using the data for targeted ads. Google held mediation talks with the users last week, and the trial should begin in California in October, according to Businessweek.

A Google spokeswoman had earlier told Education Week that the company automatically "scans and indexes" emails sent by Apps for Education users, targeting marketing to students and administrators who had opted for email ads.

"This should draw the attention of the U.S. Department of Education, the Federal Trade Commission, and state legislatures," Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based advocacy group, told Education Week. "Student privacy is under attack."

In the blog post, Google's Bout noted that the company has 400 engineers working to keep user information private and Gmail servers always use an encrypted connection.

Similar changes will be rolled out soon for other Google Apps users, including in the Business and Government software packages, Bout said.

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