Following a lawsuit in California last fall that called its advertising efforts into question, Google has stopped scanning student Gmail accounts and will no longer trawl student data to use for advertising, according to a Wednesday blog post penned by Bram Bout, director of Google for Education.
More than 30 million students, teachers and administrators use the free Google Apps for Education, Bout wrote. “This is why, from day one, we turned off ads by default in Apps for Education services,” he said. Last year the company removed ads from Google Search for K-12 students.
And this week the company “permanently removed” ad scanning in Gmail Apps for Education. Google also got rid of the enable/disable toggle for ads in the 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,” said Bout.
Google's practices increasingly have come under scrutiny by parents and privacy advocates. The company was sued last year by students as well as other Gmail users, who accused Google of violating wiretap laws by scanning email. In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the nine plaintiffs said Google was scanning student email, mining data and creating user profiles for the purposes of advertising, even calling the practice “creepy.” Judge Lucy H. Koh rebuffed Google's request to dismiss the case.
In March, shortly before Judge Koh denied suit class-action status, the Department of Education issued a 14-page document tightening its guidance on handling, storing and securing large volumes of data generated by online educational services.
Google's move to halt scanning comes just weeks after inBloom, a student data processing organization funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was forced to shut down, after unrelenting pressure from parents, administrators and lawmakers over privacy and security concerns.