Google Apps For Education Sued For Data-Mining Students

Google is not supposed to be building profiles of students for advertising purposes. It’s looking like they did.

The suit maintains that, because such non-Gmail users who send emails to Gmail users never signed on to Google’s terms of services, they can never have given, in Google’s terms, “implied consent” to scan their email.

The plaintiffs are seeking payouts for millions of Gmail users. The financial damages would amount to $100 per day of each day of violation for every individual who sent or received an email message using Google Apps for Education during a two-year period beginning in May 2011.

My guess is that it’s not nefarious. Nobody was evilly rubbing together hands over all the student data they were colleting.

It’s worse than that. Building profiles of users is so built into the DNA of how Google works that they can’t remove it. And Google itself does not see the cultural difference between building a profile to increase quality of product, and building one to shill junk.

I’m not storming out of my Google account (I actually use outlook.com more nowadays anyway). But I think it has become increasingly hard to argue that one¬†should use Google on a large scale in education. They just aren’t built for it.

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2 Comments on “Google Apps For Education Sued For Data-Mining Students”

  1. Jim Groom says:

    Is it nefarious that schools jumped into this space so willingly without understanding Google’s DNA a bit better? I’m getting a little tired of the no one is to blame frame for all this when we are getting more tightly wrapped up in the Burmese Python of data mining. Someone MUST PAY! And I think that someone is YOU! I’m storming Vancouver, watvh out Hippie!

  2. mikecaulfield says:

    Bring it on, punk. I’ll take you down like a ’68 conventioner.

    The problem with data mining is that there is this admirable long-term goal of having more responsive, invisible software. You see a hint of that in Google Cards, which gives me traffic information when I leave work, pops up the Papa Murphy’s number when I usually call for pizza, etc. Google really does want to build the “Star Trek computer” where you ask a question like “What the heck is Jim Groom on about?” and it knows which Jim Groom and what post of yours I’m likely to be talking about, and what my relationship is with you.

    That’s always been the goal of Google. And frankly, it’s a good goal. I would make really important things easier to accomplish.

    What happened, unfortunately, is Google’s goal is contextual information but their business plan is contextual marketing and they have convinced themseleves internally that these two things are perfectly aligned. After all, you’re going to see ads anyway — they are just showing you the ones that are most useful, yes?

    The thing is I still believe that we want other people to run our software. It’s ridiculous to have to build your own software to be free of this. And for most people, it’s a waste of effort. I’d rather nurses be nursing and researchers be researching than tweaking config files so they can share a photo with someone. What is so frustrating is that these are extremely trivial products to build, but the ad-supported market has pushed out those with different models.

    If there’s a way forward, it’s probably finding ways to support paid third-party services without getting a purchase order signed by the governor.There are great services out there like Draftin.com and Pinboard that don’t have the ad model and are superior products. The sucess of products like those is the only way I see out of this mess. I think the Revenge of the OS (and the “Death of the Web”) may also be good in this regard. A lot of these shenanigans are based on the horrible cookie architecture we adopted in the 1990s, apps are better siloed and have a workable business model.


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