Class-Action Suit Alleges Google Violates California Law by Reading E-mail

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Google executives have defended the scanning of users’ Gmail communications―for the purpose of targeting ads at them―since the service was launched in 2004. And people have grumbled about online email privacy for almost just as long.

But a suit filed in California, Scott et al v. Google, Inc., seeks to have the courts decide whether the practice is a violation of the California Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA), which prohibits recording or monitoring that has not been consented to, regardless of the conversation content or the purpose of the monitoring.

The suit, which seeks class-action status, was originally filed in Marin County Superior Court, but was moved to the U.S. District Court for Northern California. Google maintains that the state law doesn’t apply because it doesn’t even mention electronic communication, the internet or computers, much less email, according to the Courthouse News Service.

The company also argues that the fully-automated process of scanning emails doesn’t involve human review of any kind, is necessary to allow virus and spam protection, and is consented to by the users’ agreement to the Google terms of service.

Google executes a privacy policy as part of its terms of service agreement for all its products—including Gmail, YouTube, Picassa, Chrome and Search—which in a slightly-too-obscure way says the company uses whatever the user is looking at in order  to sell advertising, i.e. signing up for Gmail allows targeted ads based on mail content.

Non-Gmail users have argued in similar lawsuits, like Plimmer v. Google filed in British Columbia, Canada, that they are not bound by the terms of service agreement and claim that Google is violating their privacy rights when communicating with Gmail users.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh is scheduled to hear motions in court in the California case in March.

–Ken Broder   


To Learn More:

Class Won't Let Google off Privacy Suit So Easy (by Jonny Bonner, Courthouse News Service)

Google Urges Court to Toss Gmail Privacy Suit (by Jonny Bonner, Courthouse News Service)

A Copycat Canadian Privacy Suit Against Gmail (by John Levine, CircleID)

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