back to article College kids sue Google for 'spying' on them with Apps for Education

A group of four current and former University of California, Berkeley students are suing Google, claiming its Apps for Education service illegally spied on them. In a suit [PDF] filed in the US Northern California district court, the group says Google used its education bundles to intercept student emails without their …

  1. Steven Roper

    Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

    but in this case I seriously hope these people get their damages. With all the spying and monitoring fast becoming the default in the burgeoning Internet of Things, as well as the invasion of our computers and phones, I hope this is just the first squib popping in what will become a massive avalanche of privacy-violation lawsuits against every company doing this shit!

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

      Concur.

      I also hope this is really about privacy issues and not an attempt to pay off student loans.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

        One of the issues in US (and not only) is the cost of the education system because companies like Google don't want to pay taxes. Then they complain there's a lack of skills and they're forced to offshore or import (cheaper) workers from abroad.

        A state that fails to allow its citizens to access higher education but the privileged ones, or forcing them to be burdened by costly loans, is doomed to fail wholly.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

        "hope" is the appropriate word in this context. Me, on the other hand, being an old cynic...

    2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

      Google does this on purpose to gradually erode public expectations of privacy. Most people can't afford the time and money to start a lawsuit every time Google takes another step.

      1. Oengus Silver badge

        Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

        If they are doing it to speak out against the prevelance of spying I fully support them and hope they win.

        Big business (government and security agencies as well) count on people not speaking out against the erosions of rights, See (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came_...), until we have no rights left.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

        No. Google does it on purpose to make money, on the basis that most people don't notice, and most of them don't care either. There is no New World Order plan.

    3. Richard Jones 1
      WTF?

      Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

      Typical students, or some ambulance chasing lawyers seeking to make a name for themselves?

      Do they feel the world is some great charity that owes them a free living?

      Sorry if they did not understand terms of trade. If you want something you either do it yourself or pay someone else for materials and / or time to do it for you.

      It appears to me that the students thought they were no longer expected to be able to read, think or do anything for themselves.

      As others have pointed out, no one actually 'reads' their witterings, though a key word algorithm 'might' trigger the display of adverts related to their witter if the original contract allows for that action. Who forced them to react to any adverts? Or did the silly little kids feel that they the adverts forced them to spend money. Perhaps they should be forced to grow up a little - not much hope of that though!

      1. Adam 52 Silver badge

        Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

        Your post shows some fundamental misunderstandings about how Ads platforms work.

        Let me rephrase your last paragraph more accurately. No one actually reads their witterings but algorithms build up profiles, for example "female, 21 years old, mental health problems, lives in Cambridge, family in Oxford, slight lesbian leanings" and sites then sell this data to arbitrary third parties who are allowed to run whatever code they like in the subject's browser".

        Doesn't sound as harmless put like that does it?

        1. Richard Jones 1
          WTF?

          Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

          'Doesn't sound as harmless put like that does it?' Yes, since that information is likely to be quite freely known among her hypothetical circle anyway unless took steps to ensure she reserved for what?

          If you cannot kill cookies I guess you can get horribly worried, if that suits your psyche. However frankly I still see nothing to worry about. If you do not want private data to be publicly available do not use an insecure system such as e-mail. The postal system does still exist if you have paranoia or really deep dark secrets, though putting them on paper may not be a good idea either.

          Knowing what you are doing is frankly part of growing up. I guess your hypothetical female will also have posts on facebook where all will be laid even more clear via all the posts 'hypo-she' makes. These will show her friends, where she socialises, what she eats and so on a so forth. All of that appears without anyone needing to do any data mining at all.

          You still feel that the chance to target adverts in return for free facilities is so bad? If rather silly people are not aware of what can be done with the data they freely give away then it might just be time to wise up. If you have stuff you really want to secure then don't publish the stuff.

          As for me I do not use backside-book, neither do I use G-mail or any of the antisocial websites either. If I need to send something to someone that I would rather not have read freely by everyone plus dog and flees on dog I use an encrypted attachment, the last time was some draft government returns that I did not want casual readers to access. If the security people wanted to read them they would perhaps see errors of typing and calculation which were hopefully cleared up in the final printout and submission.

          I still say grow up and think before you act everybody, there are NO free lunches.

        2. nevstah

          Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

          To extend this further, I expect the data will eventually become available to insurance companies, banks, future employers and maybe even law enforcement in the fullness of time

        3. x 7

          Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

          "No one actually reads their witterings but algorithms build up profiles, for example "female, 21 years old, mental health problems, lives in Cambridge, family in Oxford, slight lesbian leanings" and sites then sell this data "

          any betting on what the algorithms produce for the posters on this forum? I'd love to see an analysis of some of us.

          1. Triggerfish

            Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality @x7

            "Should not be given access to weapons on Mondays mornings".

        4. Daggerchild Silver badge

          Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

          "Your post shows some fundamental misunderstandings about how Ads platforms work ... sites then sell this data to arbitrary third parties ..."

          *puts on "That Person" T-shirt* - *puts on blindfold* - *smokes cigarette*

          But.. Google sell the advertisers to the data, not the data to the advertisers, or otherwise someone who wanted to screw Google would have already acquired this data and waved it around as proof. Did nobody notice that silence?

          "Doesn't sound as harmless put like that does it?"

          Try blueballing a lynchmob sometime.

      2. Triggerfish

        Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality @ Richard

        The amount they are asking for 10K makes me think they are not going for the big payout more making a point.

        Also if you read the article they were told their data was not bein used this way, and then it was. So it looks like any terms of trade they were supposed to understand were lies.I think they are acting perfectly grown up.

        Also as someone else commented and as you may not be aware a hypothetical person who is suffering from some mild mental health problems might not tell people since a lot of people still have prejudice or do not know how to act. Its one of the issues with mental health and people keeping it quiet.

        Also why the fuck do you think you want other people knoiwing it? Or things like that which should be private? Especially companies, want to get insurance watch your premium rise. Had a sad day and been reading about depression even if you do not have it,maybe it still goes back to your medical insurers.

        I think they are being grown up and standing agints it. Yes maybe they should have worked out there's no such thing as a free lunch, but maybe it was delivered to them as a free lunch, again they checked and were told their data was not being used this way.

        For someone who is scornful about them comprehending what goes on with their data you sure seem to have a hard time comprehending a short article.

        1. Richard Jones 1
          FAIL

          Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality @ Triggerfish

          As a carer for someone with a range of issues, (which I shall NOT disclose), I can say they would no more parade them on the net than walk naked down the street.

          I am sorry you did not appear to master the ability to read what I wrote, hence your childish response 'Also why the fuck do you think you want other people knoiwing it?'

          (I am trying not to call that a really stupid unrelated-to-anything comment.)

          Real people who do not want people to know something DO NOT PUT IT ON PUBLIC FORA, (the big type to help with your eyesight issue) though many ill advised folk, do use such crap as facebook, where they publicly post really, I mean really unwise guff.

          Why put secret information on what is a public network?

          Use the postal service the telephones, (remember what they are?), or talk face to face with a trustworthy contact. The REAL people with REAL issues whom I know, only do face to face.

          I really feel sorry for your disadvantaged hypo-person as they have been badly advised, perhaps perhaps by you?

          I feel they they should be in sheltered living, not a college, sharing their life with everyone.

          Fortunately I have so far seen no evidence that they exist, outside of the fertile minds of those who dream them up.

          I guess the rest of the world gets on with life.

          1. Triggerfish

            Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality @ Triggerfish

            No people do not post things like that on public forums, however I think thats the sort of thing inferred by meta data is it not?

            I think the point of the article is they are not posting things on facebook they are having private mails and communications used to advertise to them which means their data is out there being sold to all. It was you who first talked about them posting it on facebook to aid your rant, don't pin that on me ta.

            The "why the fuck" was not aimed at you as a swear word dearie, it was just an expression read the rest of the paragraph it may come together for you then.

            The Hypo person is short for hypothectical (man you really aren't doing this reading of the comments things well are you?) So don't know how I advised them, possibly if I have been I am the one who should be looking at getting some help, but not quite at the point of talking to walls yet.

            However lets address this like they are real, my comment was that a lot of people with mental health issues would rather they choose when to reveal it and who to, so a company who mines meta data and makes inferences out of it that could affect their life might not want that unknowingly (especially under the false pretension of a company saying they are not), being passed on to others. However that stuff being revealed might be enough to make our Hypothetical person much worse, depression being a nice illness were people can and often try and appear like everythings all ok especially as long as someone feels like they have some control over it.

            I actually feel people with mild mental health issues should be allowed in college rather than sheltered away from society, shutting someone with depression away from the rest of the world for example is not neccessarily a good thing. Sheltered housing for people with mild mental health issues no I'm sorry I do not agree.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality @ Triggerfish

            "Real people who do not want people to know something DO NOT PUT IT ON PUBLIC FORA, (the big type to help with your eyesight issue) though many ill advised folk, do use such crap as facebook, where they publicly post really, I mean really unwise guff.

            Why put secret information on what is a public network?

            Use the postal service the telephones, (remember what they are?), or talk face to face with a trustworthy contact. The REAL people with REAL issues whom I know, only do face to face."

            - - -

            Erm... what about the NHS using online services for serious mental illness treatments? e.g. forums such as https://www.bigwhitewall.com/landing-pages/landingv3.aspx which is just one example that is already being prescribed by GPs and various medical services in some areas of the UK. I've even known people get special funding for this in areas where it's not yet on the list of available treatments, and it's a growing thing because it helps to provide a more specialised service around the clock offering support for some of the most serious mental health issues out there especially where regular treatments may be unsuitable due to each patients' (often dire) personal circumstances.

            Obviously if that's where the help offered is then people have to use it if they want treatment, and all of them should be able to expect total privacy while they access these important NHS services... shouldn't they?

          3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality @ Triggerfish

            "Real people who do not want people to know something DO NOT PUT IT ON PUBLIC FORA, "

            The story is about Google using data collected from Google Apps for Education, not "PUBLIC FORA".

            If the school, college or university requires students to use those apps AND Google have said they won't use that data for profiling AND THEN THEY DO, then Google have a problem, as do the users.

            It's not hard for Google to link the profiling data from the Education account to the students other account(s), especially if on the same device, or just advertising at the student using their education account outside of the Apps for Education area using the collected data and profile created while in the Apps for Education systems.

      3. SW10
        Unhappy

        Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

        Sorry if they did not understand terms of trade.

        It's not clear to me that they made this trade. My kid has just started at a school where everything is powered by Google Apps for Education. As someone who has routinely and actively avoided Google as much as possible (and it's practically impossible) this weirds me out no end.

        At the moment I've got my brave face on, and even tried to kid myself that they might be slightly more ethical where kids are involved.

        This is very unpleasant.

        1. Jonathan Richards 1

          Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

          Richard wrote: >Sorry if they did not understand terms of trade

          And SW10 [1] wrote: >It's not clear to me that they made this trade

          This appears to be the nub: Google made several statements to the effect that student and college emails were not being processed for ad-related purposes (see para 16 of the complaint, et seq.) and then admitted in April 2014 that they were taking steps to remove ad-scanning, i.e. they were then going to stop doing what they had said they wouldn't do.

          Now, if you consider the terms of trade to be "ignore our stated privacy policy, you just know we're going to mine your data", then the suit is meritless. I don't consider that. I am one of those people who read privacy policies before agreeing to them, and consequently rely on them. If I thought that a company had reneged on that agreement, I'd consider suing them, too.

          [1] Kensington & Chelsea? :)

        2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

          Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

          > My kid has just started at a school where everything is powered by Google Apps for Education. As someone who has routinely and actively avoided Google as much as possible (and it's practically impossible) this weirds me out no end.

          Did the school ask for your consent ? Did you give it ? Did you give it *freely* ?

          If the school has said nothing, then go and ask them a very direct question - along the lines of "I understand you require students to use X, do you, or does the provider of X, intercept/collect information stored or transmitted via X and use it for any purpose other than what is directly required to provide X ?"

          If they tell you that no information is collected and it turns out to be false - then you've got them for damages. If they say it is, then you can assess that, and perhaps kick up a sh*t storm about why they are doing this to children.

          If the school basically said, we need your consent for Y and if you don't give it then your child will be expelled - well then you've got the makings of a sh*t storm.

          The other parents might not understand or care - but if you explain it in the right terms then you can probably turn them around to caring a lot. And if most of the parents descend on the school with pitchforks (metaphorically speaking) then I think you'll find the authorities will crap themselves - especially if you can somehow show that they are effectively acting like peadophiles in tracking pupils personal data.

          So my suggestion is - get the information you need. If it's "creepy" then make sure all the other parents know what's going on and why they should care. If it's bad enough, then organise the metaphorical pitchfork gang turning up at school to demand corrections.

    4. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

      @Steven Roper

      Well said!

      My employer uses GaFe I will be watching this one closely.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Normally I hate the lawsuit mentality

      I can't see why on earth they would use "Google Apps" anyway when it's vastly inferior to Office 365 - that is also free for education users...

  2. x 7

    could have been worse

    Google could have hijacked the camera and microphone. Just imagine if that happened in a kids bedroom

    brings a whole new meaning to "Hello Google"

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Shhhhhh....

      That was the USP for the next version

      What about all those chromebooks being used in US Schools? What personal information to they slurp and send back to the Chocolate Factory?

      tip of the iceberg perhaps?

      Only time will tell.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "brings a whole new meaning to 'Hello Google'"

      ++ I guess you didn't hear about 'OK, Google' then? (Chrome Hotword) Its real easy to switch on by accident.... Just a little tickbox on the main settings screen and your kid's voice is off to Google!

      ++ Talk about stealthily deployed. After public outcry they may have stopped pushing it onto users. But what if its still lurking there from past installs.... So why not disable it? Well I tried, but no joy.

      ++ You can't even find it without starting Chrome with "--show-component-extension-options". Then you can't disable it... Because even in incognito (private browsing) mode, its re-enabled every time Chrome is restarted.

      1. x 7

        Re: "brings a whole new meaning to 'Hello Google'"

        I heard a rumour there's a new version of Google for kids in planning, called "Peadle". The online storage area for the kids homework will be known as their "PeadleFile"

      2. Jonathan Richards 1
        Alert

        Re: "brings a whole new meaning to 'Hello Google'"

        >Then you can't disable it...

        Come at it from the other direction, then. Disable the microphone device, except when you need it. This advice is clearly only useful if (a) we're not talking about a mobile phone, and (b) we can rely on Chrome not to fiddle with the hardware settings behind your back. Perhaps running as an unprivileged user would help?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You mean like Microsoft Kinect??? Microsoft already did that...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cashcow

    Shit for brains students see mega rich Google as easy sueball..

    Lame

    1. Aniya
      Devil

      Re: Cashcow

      Maybe Google should not be $_$ at everyone's data then.

    2. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Cashcow

      Cashcow

      Shit for brains students see mega rich Google <who are committing gross privacy violations left, right and centre> as easy sueball..

      Lame

      FTFY.

    3. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Contract breach

      The allegation is quite simple.

      Google collected data via Apps For Education, but said they did not do so.

      If it can be proven to civil case standards that they did do it but did not specifically say that they would, then Google are in breach of contract and thus liable to pay damages.

      It has some similarities to the idea of a plumber fixing your heating, then selling photos of you and your lounge in addition to whatever fee was arranged.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    America cares about privacy????

    ++ Who knows, maybe people are starting to fight back... Or is this simply about money? Either way, its headlines and hassle to the worlds biggest shittycorp....

    ++ Eric Schmooser won't even notice the payouts. But the bad press won't be helpful as he puts out fires in Europe and elsewhere...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Campus Rage

    Their rage should be directed a little closer to home. It seems that the UC has put monitoring appliances in all of their network and kept both the metadata and the data. All of it, and unless you were using your own VPN rather than relying on the one provided by the university, all that activity as well. The university has a unique MITM presence as all the certificates belong to them.

    Supposedly this was to increase transparency. Even more laughable is that there was no transparency concerning the installation of the network monitoring nor its further operation. Not surprising, you need only look to the UC President to figure out why.

    http://www.dailycal.org/2016/02/02/web-cyber-controversy/

  6. Phil Kingston Silver badge

    Whilst what Google seem to have been doing is wrong, I don't think the users were damaged to the tune of $10k. Seems a bit steep to me.

    A hefty fine may be warranted, but damages seems, well, just too American.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    did no one read the small print?

    I wouldn't be surprised if there was the equivalent of clicking accept to say "yes. Please read my stuff and send ads my way"

    Or have Google actually been caught out doing something they hadn't said they would....

    1. Jonathan Richards 1

      Re: did no one read the small print?

      Answers can be had by the simple expedient of reading the link in the article. To save you the bother, in answer to your question: Allegedly, yes.

      1. x 7

        Re: did no one read the small print?

        can anyone see the small print?

  8. frank ly Silver badge

    Isn't this normal for Google, for everyone?

    I'm sure that all Gmail is scanned, automatically, and targetted ads are placed according to keywords. The use of the word 'intercept' implies that Google somehow went out of their way to get their hands on the emails. In fact, Google 'handles' everyone's Gmail. Is Apps For Education somehow supposed to be different?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Isn't this normal for Google, for everyone?

      It's normal for all companies. Despite Microsofts high profile patheticly desperate #scroogled campaign, last week they silently without fanfare started doing exactly the same thing....

      Funny old world, where a company can get press time and nobody questions when they do exactly the same. It's almost as if there are so many hidden agenda and greasing paymnts powering the whole internet.

      I wouldn't be surprised if there was someone in the shadows behind this story, given that Chromebook sales have destroyed iPad in schools and are outselling windows 10 laptops in the home sector.

  9. imanidiot Silver badge

    Did the students have a choice in using the software

    or was it required by their study/course. Because if it was a requirement then refusing to use it is not really an option.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    intercept student emails without their notification or consent

    now pay us USD 5 billion for the fact we thought you offer all those goodies for free.

    ...

    ok, we'll settle for USD 50 million, come on, spare a copper, guv!

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: intercept student emails without their notification or consent

      Yes. Absolutely.

      When asking for damages you ask for a large amount - this is not recovering a loss, this is punishment for an entity taking something they had no right to do.

      You can't imprison a company, and the only thing the company as a whole cares about is money.

      If found to have caused the damage, the the judges hearing the case will decide how much is due - if anything.

      The judges are permitted to say "Yes, you breached the contract and damaged the plaintiff. The sum of damages is zero and costs are not awarded."

      - This is rare as it's basically telling the plaintiff that they shouldn't have bothered with legal action over something trivial, and lawyers are supposed to dissuade clients from doing that.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The State University of California bought the package....

    and THEY are the ones who clicked on "ACCEPT" the terms and conditions of sale that included the harvesting of data from students emails.

    Thus U.C. is the responsible party, not Google. Google sold them a package (In their tuition) that cost millions less than full fat MS Office for all students.

    I am willing to bet that there is well enough weasel language in the Tuition agreement to make even a Democrat understand they are SOL.

    Euros in general have such an entitled outlook on everything and don't understand how the US legal system works. It has infected the thinking of todays youth everywhere.

    1. Jonathan Richards 1
      Trollface

      Re: The State University of California bought the package....

      Uninformed AC is Uninformed, and frothed thus:

      >[UC] are the ones who clicked on "ACCEPT" the terms and conditions of sale that included the harvesting of data from students emails.

      They didn't click any such thing, and the terms and conditions specifically excluded the harvesting of data processed under the agreement.

      Do read the article before spouting off.

  12. Tree
    Windows

    "Mamas, don't let your boys grow up to use chromebooks"

    Gurgle is the least "trustworthy computing" company out there. Whatever Gurgle has can be picked off their servers by bad guys. I am sure our leftist politicians want to use derogatory info like Hillary did with her FBI files she hoarded to use for blackmail.

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