Gmail Users Shouldn't Expect Privacy, Google Says

Dennis Faas's picture

A Google court filing says users of its Gmail service and their contacts have no right to expect privacy. It's a controversial position that will undoubtedly catch the attention of privacy-minded consumers and Google's main rival, Microsoft.

The filing is a response to a class action lawsuit brought by action group Consumer Watchdog, which has complained about the way Google automatically scans emails and uses the contents to decide which advertisements to show a Gmail user when he or she logs in to the site.

The case focuses on Gmail users and the terms and conditions they agree to before using the service. Google believes there's no case to answer here because users explicitly agree to email scanning.

However, Consumer Watchdog is also arguing on behalf of people who don't have Gmail accounts but who send messages to Gmail users. It says these people have not given permission for the messages to be scanned.

Sender Permission 'Not Needed' To Scan Emails

Google makes three arguments against this claim. First, it says that non-Gmail users "impliedly consent to Google's practices by virtue of the fact that all users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing." (Source:

Second, Google insists federal law says only the consent of one party in a communication (in this case, the Gmail user) is needed for it to be read by a third party (in this case, Google).

Third, Google cites a 1979 court ruling that says "a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties."

Google Previously Touted Gmail Privacy

That argument has already been disputed by people pointing out that the 1979 court case involved telephones and may not be relevant here.

So, how will the case affect Google's image?

Several analysts have already uncovered numerous examples of Google making claims about Gmail's privacy, such as "You have a variety of tools that can help keep you safe and keep your information private and secure," and "our top priority is to protect the privacy and security of our users." (Source:

In other words, Google has made a serious about-face that could prove embarrassing for the firm.

That will be welcome news for Microsoft, which last year began an aggressive publicity campaign focusing on Google's practice of scanning Gmail emails. In fact, its campaign (designed to push web users towards Microsoft's Hotmail / Outlook) told people, "Don't get Scroogled by Gmail." (Source:

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