In response to lawsuits and complaints from its users, Google has decided to change its Google Apps for Education policy. Students who have been using Gmail through Google Apps have been able to avoid advertisements but until now, their messages were still being scanned by Google so that ads could potentially be delivered through another service.
This practice has been heavily criticized since last year, when Google's student e-mail scanning was brought up during a lawsuit. Other companies, like Microsoft, have specifically altered the educational versions of services so that there is no commercial aspect to them. Given Google's announcement and policy change on Wednesday, it appears as though the search giant is finally listening to certain privacy concerns.
No Ads, No Scanning
On its Official Enterprise Blog, Google announced two significant changes to the way it handles Apps for Education accounts. The first change dealt with advertisements. Even though ads are turned off by default for students, administrators had previously had the ability to turn them on through their control panel. Now that option is no longer present, so ads should never be included in Google's services for students.
The more significant alteration to its existing policy deals with the scanning of e-mails. Google has always liked to note that it is one of the few e-mail providers that ensures only the individuals involved with the e-mail are the ones that can see its content. However, that is only true because instead of humans looking through e-mails, the scanning is entirely autonomous. Since Google has seemingly perfected its scanning and advertising system, ads in Gmail can be updated just as fast as the e-mails themselves are delivered and read.
With the exception of Google Apps, Gmail message scanning is rampant and Google has not tried to hide that. Earlier this month, the service's use agreement was updated to clarify that "automated systems analyze your content" with the primary goal of targeting ads more effectively. The updated terms of service didn't actually change the way that Google scans e-mails but it did make things clear that no regular e-mail sent through Gmail is completely private.
A Broader Change
Based upon Google's announcement, the company will also be eliminating e-mail scanning for any Google Apps for Business and Government users. This means that as long as you are accessing Google's services through Apps and are actively paying Google for that access, Gmail scanning should no longer be an issue.
The official wording in Google's blog post says that "Google cannot collect or use student data in Apps for Education services for advertising purposes." Even though Google says that "similar" changes will be made to other Apps users, it seems likely that no data will be collected for advertising uses from any paying customer. The only exception would be Google Apps users who were "grandfathered" in from the discontinued version of Apps that was free.
Posted: 2014-05-03 @ 10:36am PT
A small step in the right direction.
Now: what is "your content"? If I am no gmail user and engage in email conversation with a gmail user, those portions of that email that I write are "my content", not gmail's users content. Google has no permission to scan my content. Will they honour that?
Moreover, it is not just the *display* of ads that disturbs. Today's ads come in the form of invisible bacons that track user's activity. Will Google disable also those in the paying services? I hope so. If I pay for a service, I want to be the master of it and not have the service provider to cater to the agenda of a third party.
Keep on going this way and I may start to consider using your services, Google. The day your revenues will be less ad-dependent and more a reflection of the value you provide the users will be the day I will be a Google friend again.