Google has slowly dominated the ed-tech space by providing email, technology and services to 30 million students and teachers from elementary school through college with the company's free Apps for Education platform. But now, nearly 1,000 students from a range of universities are alleging in two separate lawsuits that Google scanned their emails without consent for advertising purposes.
Four University of California, Berkeley, students filed the first suit in January, claiming Google intercepted their emails between November 2010 and May 2014 and surreptitiously created profiles of the students for commercial purposes-- a violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Since then, hundreds of students from Harvard, Yale and 19 other universities have joined and another lawsuit was filed in April. Google has not returned requests for comment.
The legal action, however, may have trouble moving forward. The judge on the case, the Honorable Lucy H. Koh, recently took issue with how the two cases were filed. Koh says each individual student in the largest of the two suits should file separate suits and all must pay $400 each for filing fees, according to the Mercury News.
"Our clerk's office is really unhappy you are circumventing our filing fees by adding 710 cases under one case number," U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh told the students' lawyer Ray E. Gallo, according to court records obtained by Mercury News.
Gallo, who is representing all 890 students, is not seeking class-action status and says the students are "standing up for themselves." He told the judge that "if these cases have to be filed individually, no lawyer would take it," according to the Mercury News.
The students are seeking the minimum of $10,000 each in statutory damages, plus an order forcing Google to delete any data it collected about the students.
The original complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claims that Google purposely misled universities about privacy and alleges that Google explicitly told universities that the company does not scan .edu emails for commercial purposes. But on April 30, 2014, the complaint states, Google announced on its blog that it had stopped scanning its .edu email accounts--a move that the suit alleges is proof that Google had been scanning .edu emails all along.
"These schools and plaintiffs reasonably did not know, understand, or suspect that Google was secretly reading their emails for commercial purposes," the complaint says.
Gallo is no longer looking for new clients, but all 890 students involved in the suits are from the 21 universities that used Google's Apps for Education email accounts between 2010 and 2014, ranging from New York University, Michigan Tech, Boston University, Brown, University of Arizona and more.