Google in lawsuit over a Gmail scanning scandal

Google is being sued by Gmail users in California for breach of privacy that allowed the company to scan people’s Gmail accounts in order to deliver relevant ads.

Texas Attorney Sean Rommel, who is co-leading the lawsuit, claims the company is violating laws by critically analysing emails sent through the popular service. He says the company is reading on a daily basis, "every email that's submitted," and claims Gmail are "looking at every word to determine meaning." The plaintiffs also claim that the policy is in breach of the Federal Wiretap Act and the California Invasion of Privacy Act.

However, Google insists it must scan user email to maintain its service. The company also accuse the plaintiffs of criminalising "ordinary business practices” that have been part of its free Gmail service since it was introduced “nearly a decade ago". They further maintain it is a part of normal business practices:

"While Plaintiffs go to great lengths to portray Google in a sinister light, the complaint actually confirms that the automated processes at issue are Google's ordinary business practices implemented as part of providing the free Gmail service to the public. This is fatal to Plaintiffs' claims".

The federal court hearing in San Jose, filed on behalf of 10 individuals, is not the first time Google has been sued for a breach of privacy as it was sued by an Android user last year.

In response to Google's request for the lawsuit to be terminated, Judge Lucy Koh says there is a possibility that the trial may be rescheduled to 2014.

Source: Herald Sun | Image: SfWeekly

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48 Comments

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Here in China we don't have Google - their market share is now below 2% and still falling. Life goes on.

It's pretty sick that these days people living in Communist China have better privacy protection than people living in the USA.

I don't think anyone or any company should open someones email. It is not sent to them. It is not their address on it, it is not sent to Google. It is not for their eyes to see. It is not theirs. Same for Yahoo email. So if you don't agree with Google's terms do they not allow you to use their email service? If they loose then why don't they just get out of the email business.

Hilarious actually. People are scared of what they don't understand and believing what everyone else tells them. I guess it is easier to fear/lash out than actually taking the time to know whats going on. Google revealed their change in policy before it went in to effect. Giving people ample time to switch to a different service. Because people who dumb and didnt do it, once again they want someone else to pay for their stupidity.

Bottom line, no one forced anyone to use Google. If you didnt like the change in policy and kept the service, no ones fault but your own.

Now here's a question, if I write an email to someone that use Gmail, would Google read it and knows a thing or two about me?

techbeck said,
Hilarious actually. People are scared of what they don't understand and believing what everyone else tells them. I guess it is easier to fear/lash out than actually taking the time to know whats going on. Google revealed their change in policy before it went in to effect. Giving people ample time to switch to a different service. Because people who dumb and didnt do it, once again they want someone else to pay for their stupidity.

Bottom line, no one forced anyone to use Google. If you didnt like the change in policy and kept the service, no ones fault but your own.

minster11 said,
Now here's a question, if I write an email to someone that use Gmail, would Google read it and knows a thing or two about me?


Yes

minster11 said,
Now here's a question, if I write an email to someone that use Gmail, would Google read it and knows a thing or two about me?

Contrary to what conspiracy theorists think, and others....Google does not read every single line item in an email or anything close to that. They look for keywords period and no physical person is looking at your emails.

techbeck said,
Hilarious actually. People are scared of what they don't understand and believing what everyone else tells them.

Bottom line, no one forced anyone to use Google. If you didnt like the change in policy and kept the service, no ones fault but your own.

That first line almost sounds like the reason why so many people switched to Firefox first then Chrome. Simply because people started saying how much more secure (partially) they were than IE, and we all know that isn't true!

I knew of those terms even before seeing it here and that is partially why I DON'T use any of my 3 Gmail accounts for nothing more than storage and junk e-mail accounts!

But I don't ever sign up for whether or not an actual person read it or not. It's the algorithm that google implement that knows what I like and sell it to any company. It's vague on what they did to my personal like or not?

Let's say I represent a company say Kit Kat. I am trying to do sales on this new Liquor store. In the body of email I mention my sales pitch to the owner who has Gmail account. Google now knows this owner talks about chocolate so "Ghiradelli" buys this information from google and practically took my business.

I am not sales per se, but I figure that's how this work in layman's term.

techbeck said,

Contrary to what conspiracy theorists think, and others....Google does not read every single line item in an email or anything close to that. They look for keywords period and no physical person is looking at your emails.

minster11 said,
But I don't ever sign up for whether or not an actual person read it or not. It's the algorithm that google implement that knows what I like and sell it to any company. It's vague on what they did to my personal like or not?

Let's say I represent a company say Kit Kat. I am trying to do sales on this new Liquor store. In the body of email I mention my sales pitch to the owner who has Gmail account. Google now knows this owner talks about chocolate so "Ghiradelli" buys this information from google and practically took my business.

I am not sales per se, but I figure that's how this work in layman's term.


Completely irrelevant example since Google doesn't sell info to third parties. They never have. They target the ads. Very big difference.

fobban said,

Completely irrelevant example since Google doesn't sell info to third parties. They never have. They target the ads. Very big difference.

There are numerous reports of information that was stored with Google being abused though . Whether it's true or not is another story

Shadowzz said,

There are numerous reports of information that was stored with Google being abused though . Whether it's true or not is another story

Some of those are probably true. I think I read about some dude who stalked a girl or something like that (reading her emails). Perhaps you're thinking about something else.

There's always the risk that people abuse the power they have though. If so I hope they're fired fast and that involved parties somehow are compensated (or whatever the right word is).

Pretty sure that Google's TOS says in no uncertain terms that their models analyze your email content for ad relevance.

So, shrug. Waste of everyone's time.

So if I get you to enter my website and the Terms and Conditions for entering are that you have to give me your house and all your money then that's fine, is it? If that's the rules in California maybe I'll move there. Sounds like it could be a good business.

Please note: By reading this comment you agree to the Terms and Conditions.

"I'm outraged the NSA scans my email to try and prevent terror attacks!"

"I'm totally fine that Google scans my email to plaster ads in my face and sell my details to other companies!'

Bugballou said,
People still use email? I guess they still use cell phones too...

So what alternative are you using this week?

Also every time they change something on google plus, it sets something you had private to public. And youtube requires you to have a google plus account now. If you already had one, they make another one. So you will have 2 google plus profiles now.

To be honest, I just don't understand why Google wont just let you pay $20 or more a year for no scanning and tracking.

Because they would have a significant loss in profits. They make much more money with the practices they use now rather than a "handful" of users willing to pay for no ads & tracking.

Many people wouldn't pay for it because a lot of people don't even know this is an issue, and many of those who do - just don't care.

And this is exactly why I use Bing+Outlook.com, and I couldn't be happier.


Google insists it must scan user email to maintain its service.

If it is illegal it is illegal, you can't just go around breaking the law because your business relies on doing so.

If it is not illegal then there is no problem and the people complaining should use something else.

exotoxic said,

If it is illegal it is illegal, you can't just go around breaking the law because your business relies on doing so.

If it is not illegal then there is no problem and the people complaining should use something else.

If their business relies on doing something illegal, then this lawsuit should be the least of their worries.

It is not illegal, they have terms and users agree to that.

Stop being butthurt people about how big of a dick Google has become. YOU ACCEPT TO THEIR TERMS IF YOU USE THEIR SERVICES!

boneheads.

Maybe these ten people should go use an email service that doesn't scan for anything at all. Would that make them happy? Probably not.

(Spork) said,
don't see the big deal all email providers scan email .... people just being ****y because its google

Scanning email to ensure it isn't spam or that it doesn't contain malware is entirely different from scanning email so that they can serve ads. I am not saying Google shouldn't be allowed to this, but it might be good that potential gmail users do know how their privacy is totally ignored by the dataminer.

you shouldn't spew **** you can't back up. True that many email providers scan for spam but right now Google and recently Yahoo are the only ones that scan the body of everyone's emails. MS only scans the Subject of the email not the body.

I'm not sure who's spewing ****, but where did you read they only scan the subject @coderchi? According to Microsoft's Stefan Weitz they scan the body too, just as Google. But not to serve ads, but to stop spam.

coderchi said,
you shouldn't spew **** you can't back up. True that many email providers scan for spam but right now Google and recently Yahoo are the only ones that scan the body of everyone's emails. MS only scans the Subject of the email not the body.

No way in malware scanning would be effective if just the subject is scanned.

OMG Lucy Koh is involved again?!

Anyway, don't people agree to a terms of service/privacy policy for Gmail? If you don't like it, switch to another service.

yekGLzhQ4Qju1FtAVcC4 said,
Yeah, don't think Google has anything to worry about here. Also, is this a scandal now? Thought most email services scanned email for spam at the very least.

There's a difference between an automated system that scans email for spam, and one that builds a profile of you over time.

They all do this. If you don't think they do, then you're naive.

Not to mention, why would I want ads that have absolutely nothing to do with me more than than ads I might actually be interested in. No ads would be best, but . . .

farmeunit said,
They all do this. If you don't think they do, then you're naive.

Not to mention, why would I want ads that have absolutely nothing to do with me more than than ads I might actually be interested in. No ads would be best, but . . .

I use Office 365 small business which has no ads and uses my own domain.

Spicoli said,

I use Office 365 small business which has no ads and uses my own domain.


You also pay for that service.

Raa said,

You also pay for that service.

You pay one way or another. A few dollars isn't worth getting my email scanned and ads everywhere. The free Google Apps that got you custom domains is gone too.

Raa said,

You also pay for that service.

Google has or had a paid own-domain email-hosting service, still displayed ads and scanned your mail.
So the pay for it argument fails.

Anywho, anyone who uses Gmail, read the terms of service first. You could've known from the start that Gmail would be scanned for advertisement purposes.....
So using it and then suing it later because you feel offended.... no court will grant him the favor, not in the US or EU. Google will win this hands down. Simply because he accepted the way Google uses/scans Gmail by creating an account...

farmeunit said,
They all do this. If you don't think they do, then you're naive.

I've had a Hotmail account since 1996. I can honestly say that to this day, I've yet to encounter a single ad that gives me the impression that it has a profiling system that actually works.

farmeunit said,
Not to mention, why would I want ads that have absolutely nothing to do with me more than than ads I might actually be interested in. No ads would be best, but . . .

I've been seeing ads on TV, newspapers, magazines, etc all my life that have nothing to do with me. And you know what? I prefer it that way. The premise marketers go with is that when I'm online, it's because I wanna buy stuff. It's actually rarely the case, so they can f**k right off and stop trying to get inside my head to figure out what I might buy from them. When I wanna buy something, I seek it out myself; I otherwise don't want to get distracted from what I'm trying to get done. Ads I'm not interested in are easier to ignore.