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DO NO EVIL? Google Sued For Data-Mining Kids' Emails in Its Education App

Google admits scanning millions of student emails to serve targeted advertisements.
 
 
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Google has been rocked by another scandal - this time, it's our children's privacy under attack. The company is facing a lawsuit over data-mining student emails in a bid for advertisements in the company’s Apps for Education tool suite for schools, Info Docket reported.

The U.S District Court for the Northern District of California is currently hearing the complaint, in which nine plaintiffs allege the data-mining practices behind Google’s Gmail electronic messaging service violates federal and state wiretap and privacy laws.  Gmail is a key feature of the Google Apps for Education which is used by schools and institutions of higher education through the world for free, boasting some 30 million users worldwide.

Google admitted in a sworn statement that it scans millions of students’ email messages to compile keywords for advertisements, despite not displaying any visual ads on its app. The company has also come under fire for allegedly using information from the scans to build “surreptitious” profiles of users that could be used for such purposes as targeted advertising.

The new developments raise major concerns about the compatibility between US child protection laws and “big data,” Education Week reported prompting major calls for the company to be more open about its policies.

Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer with EPIC, a Washington-based advocacy group said the case was highly troubling and likely to ignite concern that our children’s right to privacy is at risk.

“This should draw the attention of the U.S. Department of Education, the Federal Trade Commission, and state legislatures. Student privacy is under attack,” he said.

Likewise, Peg Tyre, director of strategy at Edwin Gould Foundation, which advocates for better public schools in New York, expressed her concern that students’ educational data should not be used for commercial purposes.

"Education needs to be a safe space," she said. "If schools walk into this and aren't fully aware that Chromebooks that google donated' to kids in the 9th grade are collecting data on those kids--and parents find out-- you are going to see a flash over of negativity-- and a ton of pushback -- on the part of parents."

Google was able to gain access to student emails following revised regulations of the  Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)  by the Education Department, which weakened this  primary legislation guarding student privacy law. It has been argued that Google’s practices violated FERPA and contravened the Education Departments “ best practices” for online educational service providers.

The plaintiffs are seeking financial compensation for millions of Gmail users for the breach of privacy as well as calling upon Google for greater transparency with respect to its data-mining practices.

 

 

Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.

 

 
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