Google has got some Splaining to do: Judge allows lawsuit against Google’s Gmail scans to move forward

GOOGLEA federal judge ruled Thursday that Google may be violating wiretap law when it scans the e-mails of non-Gmail users, allowing a lawsuit against the company to move forward.

In her ruling, Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District Court of California, questioned the clarity of Google’s privacy policy in explaining how it collects and uses e-mail data for advertising purposes. A “reasonable” Gmail user reading the privacy policy could not be expected to understand the e-mail scanning process.

Google says that the automated scanning of all e-mails that come through its servers — used to work its spam filter but also to build user profiles and target advertisements — is vital to running its e-mail service.

But Koh rejected that argument, saying Google’s privacy policy does not mention that the site collects the content of e-mails, either between Gmail users or between Gmail users and non-Gmail users.

“Google’s alleged interceptions are neither instrumental to the provision of email services, nor are they an incidental effect of providing these services,” Koh wrote in the ruling. “The Court therefore finds that Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the interceptions fall outside Google’s ordinary course of business.”

“This is a very big deal,” said Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg. “Google can no longer peer inside of everyone’s e-mail.”

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