Google’s data mining message action has the giant Internet service provider in some legal hot water this week, after allegations surfaced that Google scanned millions of student email messages in order to build targeted advertisement profiles.
According to the Huffington Post on Monday, the California-based company “faces accusations from plaintiffs” that state the multinational corporation went too far, “crossing a ‘creepy line’ by using information gleaned from the scans to build ‘surreptitious’ profiles.”
Says Education Week: “As part of a potentially explosive lawsuit making its way through federal court, giant online-services provider Google has acknowledged scanning the contents of millions of email messages sent and received by student users of the company’s Apps for Education tool suite for schools.”
Google’s Apps for Education suite is a free service for students, offering web-based email, shared calendars and documents for collaborative study.
Ironically, the suite says the following on Google’s “Benefits” page:
Google Apps for Education includes dozens of critical security features specifically designed to keep your data safe, secure and in your control. Your data belongs to you, and Apps tools enable you to control it, including who you share it with and how you share it. (Bold is from the Google page)
In the lawsuit filing, read here in redacted form, nine plaintiffs, including two students who say their privacy was violated by using the App, "allege that Defendant Google, Inc., has violated state and federal anti-wiretapping laws in its operation of Gmail, an email service."
It may come as a surprise, but Google regularly scans Gmail user’s in-box's.
“The consumer Gmail product is free and pays its way with targeted advertising. The targeting is done by building up profiles of users' interests based on the content of their email,” writes Naked Security.
Google admitted to Education Week that the company automatically “scans and indexes” emails sent through the Apps for Education program, even though the Google ads are turned off by default.
By doing so, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit say that Google is violating the Wiretap Act, which “prohibits the interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications.”
Says Naked Security:
The suit maintains that, because such non-Gmail users who send emails to Gmail users never signed on to Google's terms of services, they can never have given, in Google's terms, "implied consent" to scan their email.
The plaintiffs are seeking payouts for millions of Gmail users. The financial damages would amount to $100 per day of each day of violation for every individual who sent or received an email message using Google Apps for Education during a two-year period beginning in May 2011.