Gmail scans land Google in court
The web giant is accused of illegally wiretapping users
Jim Kerr is Alberta Venture's web editor. Tech Life will be your source for the buzz behind the latest trends in technology. Get in touch with Jim at email@example.com.
by Jim Kerr
Is Google overstepping its bounds or is the U.S.’s Electronic Communications Privacy Act simply outdated?
The company has faced accusations over the years relating to the advertising within its Gmail service and the privacy issues surrounding the Google Street View campaign, but now two federal judges have ruled that cases against each service can proceed.
The Street View case revolves around Google vehicles that allegedly collected personal information from unencrypted home computer networks. The Gmail case, however, could unleash an even larger tidal wave of consequences for the email service industry and massive fines for Google.
At issue is the company’s practice of automatically scanning email messages and displaying ads based on that content. Google says it works hard to protect consumer data and that the laws in this area haven’t kept up with technology, but others say they are in violation of state and federal antiwiretapping laws. The plaintiffs in this case are voluntary Gmail users, those who use it as part of an educational institution and people whose messages were received by a Gmail user.
Federal District Judge Lucy H. Koh, however, says the email scans are not in Google’s “ordinary course of business,” which would exempt them from falling under federal wiretap laws.
In a written order denying that motion to dismiss, Judge Koh said, “Google’s alleged interception of email content is primarily used to create user profiles and to provide targeted advertising – neither of which is related to the transmission of emails.”
So, what does this mean for you?
If Google is found to have broken the law, it will completely shake up the email service landscape and could possibly land the search giant in some financial stress (especially if the case becomes certified as a class action lawsuit for Gmail’s nearly half-billion users). As well, the anti-spam and anti-virus software industry could see some serious change, as a ruling against Google could potentially make aspects of that technology illegal.
Furthermore, this case should highlight some sections of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that could use an update. Like what, you ask?
Consider this: the act was passed in 1986 and a lot (the internet, smartphones, social media, etc.) has changed since then.
What do you think: Is Google breaking the law with its Gmail scans?