Judge Says Gmail Might Be Breaking The Law

    September 27, 2013
    Chris Crum

Google continues to battle a class action lawsuit filed in may, claiming that the company is violating laws when it “opens” and “reads” emails. Earlier this month, Google asked a judge to dismiss the suit, but that didn’t happen.

This week, a judge reportedly found that Google may indeed be violating California wiretapping laws.

As you may know, Gmail scans users’ email messages in order to serve targeted ads. It has always done this, and Google has always been pretty clear about it. The company does not have humans reading emails. It’s all done algorithmically (at least as far as anyone knows).

Gmail has carried on this way for about a decade. Earlier this year, Microsoft in an effort to promote its competing email product, started a campaign playing Google’s “invasion of privacy” up as an issue, as though it was something people did not know about. Perhaps it worked, because the suit was filed a few months later.

Wired has some quotes from the judge:

“Accordingly, the statutory scheme suggests that Congress did not intend to allow electronic communication service providers unlimited leeway to engage in any interception that would benefit their business models, as Google contends. In fact, this statutory provision would be superfluous if the ordinary course of business exception were as broad as Google suggests,” Judge Koh wrote.

“Google further contends that because of the way that email operates, even non-Gmail users knew that their emails would be intercepted, and accordingly that non-Gmail users impliedly consented to the interception. Therefore, Google argues that in all communications, both parties — regardless of whether they are Gmail users — have consented to the reading of emails. The Court rejects Google’s contentions with respect to both explicit and implied consent. Rather, the Court finds that it cannot conclude that any party — Gmail users or non-Gmail users — has consented to Google’s reading of email for the purposes of creating user profiles or providing targeted advertising. Google points to its Terms of Service and Privacy Policies, to which all Gmail and Google Apps users agreed, to contend that these users explicitly consented to the interceptions at issue. The Court finds, however, that those policies did not explicitly notify Plaintiffs that Google would intercept users’ emails for the purposes of creating user profiles or providing targeted advertising.”

They also share the following statement from Google:

Google said in a statement that it was “disappointed” with the ruling and was considering its legal options. “Automated scanning lets us provide Gmail users with security and spam protection, as well as great features like Priority inbox,” the company said.

Google will likely try to appeal, but has to jump through some legal hoops to do so.

Frequent Google critic Consumer Watchdog is thrilled with the judge’s words.

“This is a historic step for holding Internet communications subject to the same privacy laws that exist in the rest of society. The court rightly rejected Google’s tortured logic that you have to accept intrusions of privacy if you want to send email,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “The ruling means federal and state wiretap laws apply to the Internet. It’s a tremendous victory for online privacy. Companies like Google can’t simply do whatever they want with our data and emails.”

You can read the decison here.

Image: Google


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.