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Google Amends Its Terms on Scanning User Data for Ads

In the wake of an ongoing federal lawsuit and growing public scrutiny on how it scans and analyzes the data of its users, including students, giant online-services provider Google has amended its terms of service and privacy policies.

The new terms of service, scheduled to go into effect on April 14, specify that the Mountain View, Calif.-based company analyzes private data, including emails sent and received using its popular Gmail service, for a variety of purposes, including delivery of targeted ads.

"We want our policies to be simple and easy for users to understand," Google spokesman Matt Kallman wrote in a statement, according to the Bloomberg news organization.

A group of nine plaintiffs are suing Google, alleging that such data-mining amounts to a violation of federal and state wiretap and privacy laws. In a major victory for Google, Judge Lucy A. Koh denied last month a motion to grant the plaintiffs class certification.

Two of the plaintiffs in the California lawsuit are university student users of the company's free Google Apps for Education service. The students allege that their emails were inappropriately scanned by the company, and that the results were used to build "surreptitious user profiles" that could be used for a variety of purposes, including targeted advertising.

A Google spokeswoman confirmed to Education Week that the company does "scan and index" the email messages of students using Apps for Education, but said the company does not target ads to students. Google would not answer questions about whether its data-mining practices support the creation of profiles on student users.

Google also confirmed to Education Week that its general terms of service and privacy policy apply to student users of Apps for Education, a stance contrary to the company's earlier public statements.

An estimated 30 million people worldwide use Apps for Education, according to the company.

Google also made modifications to its privacy policy this week. The changes were announced through an update at the bottom of Google's home page.

Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends. 

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