Raise your hand if you use Gmail. Now look around at your pals, who are ostensibly reading this with you and are perhaps one of 425 million Gmail users. Anyone sending email to those people apparently have no “reasonable expectation” that those communications are confidential, according to a court filing submitted by Google.
Advocacy group Consumer Watchdog is calling the filing a “stunning admission,” as noted by The Guardian. This, after Google and others in the industry have come under intense scrutiny in the blowback from the National Security Agency’s surveillance tactics.
“Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy,” said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director. “People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy, don’t use Gmail.”
The filing came about during an attempt by Google to dismiss a class action lawsuit that accuses it of breaking wire tap laws when scanning email sent from non-Google accounts, all with the aim of targeting ads to Gmail users. Which is why when I get a shipping notification that my order of vintage Sweet Valley High novels is on its way, I get an ad from eBay displaying Sweet Valley High DVDs (the TV show was crap, eBay, but thanks).
According the suit, Google “unlawfully opens up, reads, and acquires the content of people’s private email messages.”
While Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt has been quoted as saying: “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it,” the suit claims Google has waltzed right up to that creepy line and danced over it.
“Unbeknown to millions of people, on a daily basis and for years, Google has systematically and intentionally crossed the ‘creepy line’ to read private email messages containing information you don’t want anyone to know, and to acquire, collect, or mine valuable information from that mail.”
But Google claims the plaintiffs are trying to muck up everyday workings, and making “an attempt to criminalize ordinary business practices” that it’s been using since its debut. In addition, Google says “all users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing.”
According to Google: “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 communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS [electronic communications service] provider in the course of delivery.”
But when you send a letter through the post office, the mailman doesn’t open it up and read it, argue some critics of this position. Or at least, he’s not supposed to.
Google responded to this recent revelation with a statement saying: “We take our users’ privacy and security very seriously; recent reports claiming otherwise are simply untrue. We have built industry-leading security and privacy features into Gmail — and no matter who sends an email to a Gmail user, those protections apply.”
Google: don’t expect privacy when sending to Gmail [The Guardian]