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Lawsuit alleging Gmail ads are “wiretapping” gets judge’s OK

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Joe Mullin
September 27, 2013

It’s widely understood that the ads Google puts in Gmail are based on the content of e-mails. The millions of Gmail users presumably accept the company’s promise that “no humans read your e-mail.”

Despite that, a lawsuit claiming that Google’s practice violates pre-Internet anti-wiretapping laws will be going forward. Lawyers representing non-Gmail users of various stripes in a class-action lawsuit say their clients never agreed to have their e-mails intercepted and scanned by Google. They argue that Google’s “interception” of those e-mails violates federal anti-wiretapping laws and state privacy laws. And today, US District Judge Lucy Koh agreed with them, refusing to grant Google’s motion to dismiss the case.

Even an e-mail sender who read the company’s privacy policies “would not have necessarily understood that her e-mails were being intercepted to create user profiles or to provide targeted advertisements,” stated the judge. The plaintiffs in this case haven’t consented implicitly or explicitly to have their e-mails scanned, and so the lawsuit can move forward, she ruled.

Some of the plaintiffs do use Google mail, but they’re not free Gmail users, who would have agreed to Google’s ad-scanning terms when they signed up. Rather, they’re users of non-ad-based e-mail, including some of Google’s own paid services, like Google Apps for Education. Those users of non-Gmail services didn’t agree to get their e-mails scanned by the service, their lawyers argued.

The proposed classes of plaintiffs—and there are several—are potentially huge. One includes “all US citizen non-Gmail users who have sent a message to a Gmail user and received a reply or received an e-mail from a Gmail user.”

Full article here

This article was posted: Friday, September 27, 2013 at 4:54 am

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