This is not new, Google is known for violating privacy policies. Recent information from Google’s own lawyers reveled that Google is scanning student’s mail content even when the ads are turned off for better ad targeting. Google is claiming that they are using this data from students to target them with ads. Microsoft has clearly said that they don’t mine user data for ad targeting.
Whether or to what degree these last two conditions are actually met by specific services such as Gmail or Outlook.com is of course a pertinent question. Currently Google faces legal challenges to its use of consumer data mining in both the U.S. and the European Union. EU data protection authorities in particular have determined that Google fails to inform consumers properly of its conduct or obtain their consent, while a major class action law suit in California advances similar accusations. Although Outlook.com appears to have avoided such challenges to date, we should certainly expect that regulators and courts will hold it to the same high standards as Gmail.
The Google and Microsoft education suites discussed above operate under quite different rules than the firms’ ad-based consumer email services. Office 365, developed from Microsoft’s enterprise server-based software packages such as Exchange and SharePoint, was never designed to serve ads and does not have the functionality to create ad-targeting user profiles based on data mining. Microsoft’s Office 365 web site makes an entirely unambiguous pledge in this regard: “We do not mine your data for advertising purposes.”
Google Apps for Education, by contrast, has a more ambivalent policy regarding advertising. While Google pledges not to serve ads to students without schools’ permission, its Google Apps suite, which is a repurposed version of Google’s Gmail and other consumer services, was designed from the ground up to include ad-serving as well as highly sophisticated user profiling and data mining capabilities. Google explicitly offers schools the option of enabling ad serving to student users of Google Apps for Education. Although it does not yet offer to share the resulting ad revenues with schools that choose the ad-serving option, it has clearly left the door open to such revenue sharing in the future. Indeed, it is hard to see why Google would explicitly write the ad-serving option into its standard contract with schools if it did not hope one day to make ads for students a default and perhaps even mandatory feature of Apps for Education.