Google must face majority of claims in Gmail wiretap suit

A U.S. District Court disagreed that the company’s service terms and privacy policies are enough to cover the wiretapping

Yahoo and Facebook’s top bosses may have recently chastised the NSA for its information gathering tactics, but it’s a different top technology company that may be receiving the most spying heat. According to a Sept. 26 court ruling, Google Inc. will have to face most claims in a lawsuit alleging that the company illegally reads and mines the contents of private emails. Google is facing allegations that these actions violate federal wiretap laws.

Google originally argued in U.S. District Court that users agreed to let Google intercept and read their email messages when they accepted the company’s service terms and privacy policies. Judge Lucy H. Koh agreed… partially. The judge agreed to throw out state claims against Google, but she refused to dismiss any federal claims against the company.

In the ruling, Koh said, “The court finds that it cannot conclude that any party -- Gmail users or non-Gmail users -- has consented to Google’s reading of e-mail for the purposes of creating user profiles or providing targeted advertising.”

Google does not agree with the ruling, claiming, as it argued in a Sept. 5 hearing with Koh, the company can “articulate a legitimate business purpose” for any mining of data.

“We’re disappointed in this decision and are considering our options,” Google said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg. “Automated scanning lets us provide Gmail users with security and spam protection, as well as great features like Priority Inbox.”

It’s not just emails that has Google’s top legal minds working overtime. The company has faced challenges this year over privacy related to both its Google Street View and Google Glass offerings, and it also has faced copyright infringement challenges from Apple.

The case is In re Google Inc. Gmail Litigation, 13-md-02430, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

Contributing Author

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Zach Warren

Zach Warren is Assistant Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, where he oversees online content submissions and administers InsideCounsel's enewsletters. Zach specializes in new media and multimedia...

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