Google Apps and Student Privacy

student-privacyAs you have probably heard,  there is a Federal lawsuit against Google in California that accuses Google of mining student data for commercial purposes. We have received a few questions and should expect we will have more.

Here is what we know so far.

  • Google Apps for Education remains certified as FERPA compliant. Federal regulators have not seen any issue to warrant reconsideration, revocation, or further investigation at this time.
  • Yes, Google scans all email before it reaches its inbox.  The scanning addresses several issues, including spam and virus protection, archiving, spell checking, and priority inbox, as well as automated identification of keywords.
  • Auto identification of keywords is for ad display.  Unless explicitly turned on by a school district, ads are not displayed and this functionality is disabled.  We have never turned on this service for a school, and to the best of our knowledge, no school has turned on ads themselves.
  • No humans read emails or other Google contents.  The scanning is automated, by computer algorithm.
  • Google does not sell the information it gathers — that is not how Ads work. When an advertiser selects keywords, Google’s system matches keywords from ads with keywords from users.  Advertisers do not know the identity of those who see ads.
  • The lawsuit alleges that Google could use a “profile” learned from email scanning to advertise and market to students using other Google services. Emphasis is on “could”.  While Google could do this, they do not, as to do so would invalidate Google’s FERPA compliance and would destroy the trust of thousands of schools and districts.   Also note that SaaS providers offering SIS and LMS services also have information that could be sold or used for marketing.   Like Google, these providers hold the information as confidential.
  • The judge in the case denied the request for class action status. This indicates that there is likely insufficient cause to expect a broad application of fault or liability. While we are not lawyers, appears to be an early indication regarding the merits of the case.

We will continue to monitor the case for developments and publish relevant information as it becomes available.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.