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Google Stops Mining Schools' Gmail Accounts for Advertising

By William Peacock, Esq. on April 30, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Their customers may have no expectation of privacy when using Gmail, but at least now, the kids are all right. Well, kinda.

Google announced on Wednesday that it had ceased scanning Google Apps for Education users' email for the purposes of delivering targeted ads, reports The Wall Street Journal. Though the company never placed advertisements in users' email accounts, and claims that it never actually used the collected data to deliver ads elsewhere, the collection was scrutinized during the email scanning lawsuit, a dispute that ended with a victory for the tech company last month.

The move is the second pro-privacy move by Google in recent weeks, following a rumored scale back of the company's Google+ platform which we discussed yesterday.

What is Google Apps?

Google Apps is a suite of products provided by the company to businesses and educational institutions. It includes Google Mail (also known as Gmail), as well as cloud services (Google Drive, Docs, Calendar, and more). Google provides its Apps for Education service for free to participating universities, without advertisements, and previously offered free ad-supported Apps accounts to business.

Email Scanning

The controversy regarding Google's email scanning practices came to a head last year, in the post-Snowden privacy era, when the lawsuit against Google for scanning users' email made headlines. Google claimed that users had no privacy interest in their email content, which obviously didn't go over well with the general public.

Whose email is scanned? Anyone who sends a message to or from a Gmail or Google Apps account will be scanned at some point. Google scans all free Gmail accounts, as well as paid and free Google Apps accounts.

Though Google's change of course on education accounts means those inboxes won't be scanned, if those users send email to a Gmail or non-educational Google Apps account, that email will still be scanned when it reaches the recipient's inbox.

What does the scanning entail? While all email providers scan email for spam filtering purposes, Google scans email for spam, for email categorization, and for data collection to help with the company's advertising, both in email inboxes and across all of Google's network.

Why Now?

Google+ was cut off at the knees last week. This week, the company announced that it stopped scanning educational users' inboxes. Is the company seeing the pro-privacy light? Possibly.

Or, a more cynical individual might point out that the email scanning lawsuit was dismissed on class certification grounds -- different types of users (educational users, Gmail users, anyone who sent an email to a Google user) suffered different injuries and lacked the commonality to form one mega-class. Given the judge's comments on imputing knowledge to users, there was only a very slim possibility that the case would've been refilled as separate classes, but it remained a possibility nonetheless.

And Google+? Nobody used that anyway. It doesn't make much sense to dedicate thousands of employees' time and skill to an unpopular product.

Is Google seeing the light, or the dollar signs? Join the discussion on Facebook at FindLaw for Legal Professionals.

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