Google yesterday announced it will no longer scan the contents of Gmail accounts associated with the company’s Apps for Education service for the purpose of generating advertisements. It is unclear if Google will continue to scan those accounts for other purposes.
This decision is one of two significant changes the company announced. The other change falls in line with an earlier decision limiting the ability for administrators to enable advertisements within the service.
Apps for Education offers email and other Google services not only to colleges and universities but also to public school districts and private schools around the world. Among the Google applications included in the service are Gmail, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Calendar, and more. In all, the company claims that more than 30 million students, teachers, and administrators use the service. Put very briefly, Apps for Education is designed to replace the proprietary email platforms traditionally used by school systems.
From the very beginning, Google claims it had advertisements turned off by default on the service. A year ago, the company decided to remove the ability to display ads altogether for any students using the service from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. Before making this change, it was possible for a person with administrative control over an Apps for Education account (i.e. a university systems administrator) to enable advertisements.
Regardless of whether Apps for Educations users were seeing the advertisements or not, Google treated the users as if they were. In other words, Google was monitoring the content of these email accounts and mining the data therein. This reality stirred up more than a bit of controversy in March.
Yesterday’s announcement made clear that Google has extended the decision it made one year ago by disabling the ability to display ads on the service altogether – regardless of age. Under the current settings, no one can enable ads, and Google will no longer mine Apps for Education user accounts for advertisement information.
Their privacy statements, however, are very carefully worded. Nowhere is Google saying it will stop scanning these accounts. Merely that it will stop scanning them for advertising purposes.
The move will undoubtedly improve privacy for the students, teachers, and administrators using Google’s various services under the free-of-charge Apps for Education umbrella. However, it’s also a reminder of how the company’s handles information belonging to all of its other customers.
“We’ve permanently removed all ads scanning in Gmail for Apps for Education,” Bram Bout, director of Google for education wrote in a blog post, “which means Google cannot collect or use student data in Apps for Education services for advertising purposes.”
That statement should serve as a stark reminder to regular Gmail users that Google is most definitely scanning the contents of your emails in order to serve ads.