Google quits scanning student Gmail for targeted ads

Student data is off limits now for Google's advertising business.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Google says it has stopped scanning the email of its 30 million Apps for Education users, backing off its main method of targeting ads across its online services.

"We've permanently removed all ads scanning in Gmail for Apps for Education, which means Google cannot collect or use student data in Apps for Education services for advertising purposes," Google said in a blogpost on Wednesday.

The move addresses criticism from Microsoft and some lobby groups, centred on the fact that ads were disabled by default for Apps for Education "core services", such as Contacts, Calendar, Gmail, Talk and Drive, but not search or YouTube.

In other words, although ads might not be served in its core services, Google did serve targeted ads to students logged into their school account when they ventured out to other Google properties like YouTube and search. 

Google says it removed ads from Google Search for K-12 users that were signed-in last year.

Along with halting scanning email for advertising, Google also removed the option for admins to turn on ads in these services.

"This means ads in Apps for Education services are turned off and administrators no longer have the option or ability to turn ads in these services on," Google said.

It's the second big change related to email scanning that Google has made in the past month. Earlier in April it updated its terms of service to clarify that it did analyse user content including emails to provide targeted ads. The update followed a failed bid to mount a class action claim against Google over its email scanning.

The changes may also take some of the sting out of Microsoft's Scroogled campaign that has focused on Google's approach to privacy across its services.

Last month the UK's advertising watchdog cleared a Microsoft Scroogled ad that criticised Google for scanning the content of email to serve targeted ads.

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