August 14, 2013
Gmail Users Cannot Expect Their Emails To Remain Private, Says Google
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
In recently released court documents, Google argues that its customers can’t expect them to "not" read and scan their emails.Comparing Google’s role in serving up email to that of an office assistant, the search giant argues that customers “cannot be surprised their emails are processed by the recipient’s [email provider] in the course of delivery.” The court documents emerged from a class-action lawsuit against Google wherein the plaintiffs argued the company's policies of email snooping violate California’s privacy law.
To serve ads to its users, Gmail scans incoming emails for information to build targeted promotions. Privacy advocate Consumer Watchdog found the heavily redacted court documents and is drawing more attention to Google’s now-common practices in the way it handles users’ data.
“Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient’s [email provider] in the course of delivery. Indeed, ‘a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties,’” explains Google in its motion to dismiss the case from Judge Lucy Koh of the US District Court in San Jose, California.
“Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy,” explained Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director John Simpson in a statement. “People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy don’t use Gmail.”
The motion to dismiss has plenty of eye-catching statements from Google. The plaintiffs in the case argue Google should clearly explain what information it pulls from users’ email inboxes and how it uses this information.
In one portion of the court document, Google cites a precedent: “Indeed, “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.” Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 743-44 (1979). In particular, the Court noted that persons communicating through a service provided by an intermediary (in the Smith case, a telephone call routed through a telephone company) must necessarily expect that the communication will be subject to the intermediary’s systems.”
In other words, Google claims customers should expect it to do what it will with the data that crosses its servers.
“Google’s brief uses a wrong-headed analogy; sending an email is like giving a letter to the Post Office,” said Simpson. “I expect the Post Office to deliver the letter based on the address written on the envelope. I don’t expect the mail carrier to open my letter and read it.”
Google is no stranger to being accused of violating privacy laws.
Last year iPhone users brought a lawsuit against Google when it was discovered the search giant had actively bypassed the security settings in the iPhone’s web browser, Safari, allowing it to track the users’ online behavior. The US Federal Trade Commission levied a $22.5 million fine against Google in November.