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Google Stops Reading Students’ Gmail After Legal Questions Are Raised

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Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 1:06 pm

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Google Stops Reading Students’ Gmail After Legal Questions Are Raised

Internet Giant’s Culture Shows Why Its Chairman Is Poor Choice As Government Advisor

SANTA MONICA, CA — Google said it will stop reading the Gmail accounts of 30 million students who use Google Apps For Education, spinning the announcement as “protecting students,” when in fact the change came only after questions were raised about the legality of the practice, Consumer Watchdog said today.

The flip flop makes clear Google’s ingrained culture of doing whatever it wants without asking permission and only backing down when confronted with possible violations of the law, the nonprofit nonpartisan public interest group said.

“Google executives are always pushing the limits and only back off when their hands are caught in the cookie jar,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “This is one reason why Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is a terrible choice as a government advisor and why we’ve asked NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo to remove him from the Smart Schools Commission.”

While the Internet giant didn’t display ads to the students’ Gmail accounts, the data the company mined from their emails could be used to serve ads to them on other websites. The practice was revealed in a suit in federal court in San Jose. Last month Education Week magazine reported that such activity may violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a law that protects educational records. Read the report here: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/03/13/26google.h33.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS2

Gov. Cuomo appointed Schmidt to the NY Smart Schools Commission earlier this month to advise on how to spend $2 billion to upgrade schools’ technology if voters approve a bond issue in November.  Schmidt is the only voice from the tech world on the panel.  The other two members are educators.

In letter sent to the governor Consumer Watchdog wrote that Cuomo should:

— Preclude Google from providing any of the new technology to the state’s schools given the conflict of interest created by Schmidt’s appointment.

– Remove Schmidt from the Commission immediately given Google’s disregard for students’ privacy and the potential for self-dealing.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrcuomojcjs.pdf

Read Google’s announcement that it will stop reading students’ Gmail here: http://googleenterprise.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/protecting-students-with-…

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Visit Consumer Watchdog’s website at www.consumerwatchdog.org

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 361 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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