Google admits data mining student emails in its free education apps

Jeff Gould
Peerstone Research

When it introduced a new privacy policy designed to improve its ability to target users with ads based on data mining of their online activities, Google said the policy didn’t apply to students using Google Apps for Education. But recent court filings by Google’s lawyers in a California class action lawsuit against Gmail data mining tell a different story: Google now admits that it does data mine student emails for ad-targeting purposes outside of school, even when ad serving in school is turned off, and its controversial consumer privacy policy does apply to Google Apps for Education.

…Regarding Google Apps for Education in particular, the lawyers state that schools which contract with Google to provide Google Apps “have a contractual obligation to obtain their students’ and end users’ consent to Google’s automated scanning”. The document then goes on to list a number of examples of how educational institutions have carried out this duty to inform users and obtain their consent for scanning. Notably the Google filing cites the web site of the University of Alaska as an exemplary instance of such compliance:

The University of Alaska (“UA”) has a “Google Mail FAQs,” which asks, “I hear that Google reads my email. Is this true?” The answer states, “They do not ‘read’ your email per se. For use in targeted advertising on their other sites, and if your email is not encrypted, software (not a person) does scan your mail and compile keywords for advertising. For example, if the software looks at 100 emails and identifies the word ‘Doritos’ or ‘camping’ 50 times, they will use that data for advertising on their other sites.” Attached as Exhibit 79 is a true and correct print out of UA’s Google Mail FAQ page, which is also available at (last visited Nov. 13, 2013). [Declaration of Kyle C. Wong in Support of Google Inc.’s Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification, p. 41]

In other words, Google’s own lawyers here confirm in a sworn public court declaration that even when ad serving is turned off in Google Apps for Education, the contents of users’ emails are still being scanned by Google in order to target ads at those same users when they use the web outside of Google Apps (for example, when watching a YouTube video, conducting a Google search, or viewing a web page that contains a Google+ or DoubleClick cookie). This statement thus appears to be what American lawyers call “an admission against interest”…



Read the entire article at



Comments are closed.