Google faces lawsuit over email scanning and student data

(Last Updated On: April 15, 2014)

Google faces a lawsuit in California over whether bulk scanning of emails to deliver advertisements breaches state and federal wiretap laws.

In its filings for the lawsuit, the company has also admitted scanning the contents of emails sent and received by American students who attend schools which use the company’s Apps for Education suite. But Education Week magazine says that that raises new questions about the compatibility between US child-protection laws and “big data”.

The nine plaintiffs accuse Google of breaching wiretap laws, and hope to start a collective “class action” suit to gain financial compensation for Gmail users, as well as to force the company to be more open about its policies.

Only two of the plaintiffs are students, one at the University of Hawaii and one at the University of the Pacific, in California. But their cases raise the thorniest questions for the company.

The company “scans and indexes” the email of any student using its tools for education, even if those schools have turned off the ability to display adverts. The scanning lets the company provide features such as spell check, virus and spam protection, as well as functionality including its “Priority Inbox” feature. It cannot be turned off.

Such a practice could be in violation of an American law called Ferpa, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which is the main law guarding student educational records.

Source: The Guardian (UK)

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