UC-Berkeley students sue Google, alleging their e-mails were illegally scanned

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Four students and alumni from the University of California-Berkeley have sued Google in federal court, alleging that the company — which runs the university’s e-mail accounts — illegally intercepted and scanned e-mails for advertising purposes without students’ knowledge or consent. Google’s Gmail service is a core feature of Google Apps for Education, which is provided for free to thousands of K-12 schools and universities and is used by more than 30 million students and teachers nationwide, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges that Google misled Berkeley and other institutions into believing that school e-mail accounts would not be subject to scanning for commercial purposes. The schools, in turn, assured their students and staff of their privacy. But, the complaint alleges, Google was scanning and analyzing e-mails to serve targeted advertisements to students until April 30, 2014, when the company announced via a blog post that it had “permanently removed all ads scanning” in its e-mail service for schools, “which means that Google cannot collect or use student data in Apps for Education services for advertising purposes.” That announcement amounted to a tacit acknowledgement that Google had been using information from student e-mails to target ads, according to the plaintiffs, who allege that Google violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. They are asking the court to force the company to delete any information derived from the scanned e-mails and pay damages. Under the law, the plaintiffs could collect up to $10,000 each, or $100 for each day that the law was broken, whichever is greater.


UC-Berkeley students sue Google, alleging their e-mails were illegally scanned