Students at the University of California, Berkeley are suing Google for scanning their emails without their consent in order to harvest advertising data.
Four students at Berkely filed a lawsuit against the California-based tech giant after realizing that the Google Apps for Education service provided to them by their university was scanning their emails for advertising purposes.
Although Google said in an April 2014 blog post that it had “permanently removed all ads scanning in Gmail for Apps for Education,” the lawsuit claims that Google had been harvesting advertising data from students as far back as 2010. According to the students, disclosures from Berkely administrators assured that their emails would be private. “None of these disclosures notified him or her of Google’s interception or content scanning for Commercial Purposes. Many Plaintiffs received disclosures that assured them there would be no such scanning.”
When Google initially offered their free Google Apps for Education service to administrators at Berkely, Internet-Law professor Chris Hoofnagle specifically asked about data scanning.”They always responded, ‘There is no advertising.’ Their response was kind of a red herring,” Hoofnagle said. “We were asking whether Google was deriving knowledge from our communications.”
The Google Apps for Education website claims that the services provided “don’t collect or use student data for advertising purposes or to create ads profiles.” However, “like many email providers,” Google Apps for Education conducts “scanning in Gmail to keep… customers secure and to improve their product experience.
According to federal laws, email providers are required to give explicit disclosure to users before scanning their emails. Since the lawsuit’s filing, more than 800 students have filed separate individual claims against Google for violating their right to privacy in their email inboxes. The students are seeking a maximum of $10,000 each.