Google to stop scanning student Gmail accounts for ads

Google has confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that it will no longer scan student Gmail accounts for ads. The practice was called into question last week as part of a court case in which Google has been accused of violating wiretap laws.

The story says that the decision was due to Google revealing as part of its response to the lawsuit that it does scan Gmail accounts for the students who are signed up to use its Google Apps for Education program. The lawsuit was filed in 2013 by a group that claims Google's Gmail policies violate the the Federal Wiretap Act and the California Invasion of Privacy Act.

In response, Google has now said it will no longer collect or use any data that come from students who use its Google Apps for Education program. This will also be extended to businesses and governments that use Google Apps.

This decision will likely be considered a victory for many online privacy groups and advocates who have had concerns about Google's Gmail scanning practices since the company first launched the email service 10 years ago. Earlier this month, Google added a paragraph to its Terms of Service that was written to better explain its reasons for scanning Gmail accounts.

Source: Wall Street Journal | Gmail Image via Shutterstock

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Crimson Rain said,

Bing doesn't do that. Stop trolling every thread.

Are you seriously suggesting Bing doesn't data mine? And you calling everyone who disagrees with you a troll doesn't make them one I'm afraid.

gawicks said,

Except that they don't. Outlook.com doesn't scan through your personal email and target ads based on what you're mailing.

We only have Microsoft's word on that. And from the hypocrisy we've seen lately, namely, running a campaign against Google's supposed automated scanning of emails, all the while, Microsoft employees were manually sifting through the personal emails of users of their service, I'm incredulous towards their claims of being the bastion of morality.

And even if it were true, I was referring to Bing's data mining, which outlook.com and other Microsoft web services also do in order to serve targeted advertising. Scanning emails is neither here nor there. They're all data mining.

There is a difference between reading through your email on the account of theft and routinely selling the details of your private emails to third party advertisers. Surely you see the problem here.

gawicks said,
There is a difference between reading through your email on the account of theft and routinely selling the details of your private emails to third party advertisers. Surely you see the problem here.

They don't sell anything to advertisers. They use the contents to determine keyword matches. The advertiser already defined the scope of their target audience and Google determines if an advertisement is appropriate. An advertiser never sees your email or even what they contain.

I know this because at once point I actually used adsense. At no time did I ever see even remotely what looked like an email message.

Regardless the email acanning is done via an _automated_ system. Humans might see keywords and that's probably it.

In the case of Microsoft they were opening the mailbox by an individual and actually looking at the email. Think about this. What if they were wrong?

gawicks said,
Surely you see the problem here.

If you truly value your privacy you should see a problem with both services. They both actively scan through your emails and while Microsoft doesn't publicly use the information for anything but filtering junk email this could easily change in the future. Who knows at this point if they are already mining the data for future use.

gawicks said,
There is a difference between reading through your email on the account of theft

Why stop there? If it's in the name of stopping theft why not start having their scanner pick up on confidential information and alert them if any of it ends up in your email account? Maybe other companies could pay them to do it for them as well. It's a slippery slope.

simplezz said,

Are you seriously suggesting Bing doesn't data mine? And you calling everyone who disagrees with you a troll doesn't make them one I'm afraid.

It doesn't when it comes to schools education programs which is the topic. L2R.

contriver87 said,

while Microsoft doesn't publicly use the information for anything but filtering junk email this could easily change in the future. Who knows at this point if they are already mining the data for future use.

Are you serious with that argument? If you start by judging from that view you could say anything about everything saying it 'could change in the future'. My point is that Outlook doesn't do that while google does. I was pointing out the mistake in simplezz's argument. And my point stands.

Personally I'm no privacy nut. I use both services . But this issue with Microsoft scanning the blogger's email is way overblown. The blogger himself mailed Microsoft the stolen source code asking to confirm it's genuineness.This is no way comparable to what google does by selling your data to third party advertisers in bulk.

gawicks said,
Are you serious with that argument? If you start by judging from that view you could say anything about everything saying it 'could change in the future'. My point is that Outlook doesn't do that while google does.

I think you missed my point entirely. The data is already going through their scanners and we don't have any idea about what they're doing with it. How do we know that Microsoft isn't building a database with personal information right now? It's a bit hypocritical to criticize what Google is doing with the information and just assuming that Microsoft has the best intentions with it.

gawicks said,

But this issue with Microsoft scanning the blogger's email is way overblown. The blogger himself mailed Microsoft the stolen source code asking to confirm it's genuineness.

I would argue that it wasn't overblown at all. If Microsoft wants to be serious about privacy then they should get a warrant like everyone else would have to do in this situation. The postal service can't open first-class mail for any reason without a warrant or subpoena so why should an email service be expected to be any different when it comes to private correspondence?

gawicks said,

This is no way comparable to what google does by selling your data to third party advertisers in bulk.

Google doesn't do that and it would make absolutely no sense for them to. Why would they sell the most valuable asset they have?

While the Scroogled campaign may not be the primary reason why Google is changing it's practices; the Scroogled campaign definitely contributed because it educated the public on on Google collects browsing info to target ads. Google should not have been collecting this info from children that have no true understanding of how Google's practices affect them or the ability to demand that their schools provide access to alternative services if they didn't agree with Google's data mining.

Maybe have brought a little attention, but not to much. And users are really stupid, no duh I know, since they should know this stuff before they start using it. Info was widely available and Google even stated publicly what they were doing. All in all, The Scroogled campaign was a joke and made MS look bad...and Mark Penn is an idiot.

I agree that it didn't contribute much but I wouldn't call users stupid. I'd say users are lazy but given the length of the typical TOS or User Agreement; you kinda expect that users won't read them and you can bet that some businesses don't want users to read them anyway. This no different than not reading your lease, Mortgage papers, Legal papers, auto loan, insurance paperwork, etc. I don't know about other countries but in the United States, comsumers are regularly faced with User agreements that regularly exceed three pages of text with legal jargon that is not understood by the typical consumer.

Yes great news for all those students who have Facebook, Twitter, Gmail/Hotmail/Yahoo, and other cloud services.

I'm sure they totally feel better now.

Not sure why so many are angry about Google going through the emails. I am getting an email service for free, that includes a host of other features I like, like Chrome Sync, Android, etc. If they want to scan my emails and display to me relevant adverts than I do not see a problem. Infact, if I am looking to buy something and have shown interest of it via email to a friend, and Google can display an ad that display the same product, cheaper, why not?

Not only that, but users can easily employ PGP if concerned. Personally, it doesn't bother me, because I know full well, that every single free web service is doing data mining, including all of Microsoft's. Feigning indignation and switching to another in protest against Google only serves the agenda of the anti-Google brigade.

I totally despise anything Google, and always have, but for them to scan through ALL my e-mails to target ads at me, really sucks, especially since I use Gmail for nothing but a junk service!

Who has ever clicked an ad just from targeted crap thing like this? If I was looking to buy something, I WOULD NOT be clicking some ad Google thought I might be interested in. I would be searching the stores or what ever to look for EXACTLY what I'm looking for.

No one can "easily" employ PGP, not even us "technical" people, so stop that BS. It involves additional steps that most people are never going to do to read your damn email, and personally I don't feel like bothering with that half-baked crap because it just gets tiring and I'm reminded every time about encryption and decryption stages. It must be transparent in order for it to actually be used by people. Companies like Google and Microsoft still aren't offering transparent, integrated encryption because it simply goes against their marketing strategies. They don't care about your privacy, and that's why everyone suffers, including over 99% of email users in the world who hardly know anything about computers other than the graphical user interfaces they use.

audioman said,
No one can "easily" employ PGP, not even us "technical" people, so stop that BS.

I've used PGP before and it wasn't that difficult from a technical standpoint. It's just getting other people and companies on board with it that's the problem. I'd certainly like more mainstream encryption myself.

audioman said,

It must be transparent in order for it to actually be used by people. Companies like Google and Microsoft still aren't offering transparent, integrated encryption because it simply goes against their marketing strategies. They don't care about your privacy, and that's why everyone suffers, including over 99% of email users in the world who hardly know anything about computers other than the graphical user interfaces they use.

Don't get wrong, I agree wholeheartedly with you. I'd love to see email encryption made easier and mainstream. Hopefully, Google's recent announcement can achieve just that. Only time will tell whether it's effective or not.

This will also be extended to businesses and governments that use Google Apps.

Glad to see this is finally coming to an end. If I'm paying for the service, I am not longer the product, so stop treating me that way.

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