After being hit by a lawsuit over privacy concerns, Google announced that it will no longer scan student Gmail accounts for personal data to sell in the form of targeted ads. Google assured students and their parents that user data would now be private and safer than ever before.
The lawsuit was filed by students at universities in California, who believe that Google's policy of scanning private student email accounts for user data violates state and federal laws. Among the laws students accuse Google of breaking is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which aims to protect student privacy.
Google stated that although it scanned and indexed all emails from Google Apps for education users, it did not post the ads in any of the apps. Google merely used that data to target students with specific ads in other areas. This clarification did nothing to appease the students, so Google decided to end the practice all together.
"Earning and keeping [users'] trust drives our business forward. We know that trust is earned through protecting their privacy and providing the best security measures," Bram Bout, director of Google for Education, wrote in a blog post.
Bout continued by outlining the steps Google will now take to end the practice of scanning student Gmail accounts for data.
"Today, we're taking additional steps to enhance the educational experience for Apps for Education customers," Bout wrote. "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."
"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," he added.
More than 30 million students, teachers and administrators use Google Apps for Education, so this is new policy will have a huge impact. This new policy applies to all students K-12 as well as college students, so other users may still be targeted.
However, Google also stated that it will begin making similar changes to its policy for government, business and customers of the free version of Gmail. It did not specify when these changes will take place or what exactly they will entail, but for once, it seems that privacy concerns are being addressed.