Consumer Watchdog has reportedly discovered a motion filed by Google's attorneys back in July related to ongoing litigation about how the company runs its Gmail service. In an attempt to dismiss a class action complaint filed against the company, Google stated that its Gmail users should assume that any electronic data that passes through Google's servers can be accessed and used for a number of applications such as selling ads to customers.
"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 emails are processed by the recipient's [email provider] in the course of delivery,” the motion reads. "Indeed, 'a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.'"
The Plaintiffs in the complaint allege that Google is illegally intercepting email each time one is scanned as it's delivered to and from a Gmail account. Google counters the claim by saying that although scanning isn't defined in the Terms of Service agreement, it’s a necessary procedure for the "product" to run correctly. Scanning is also done in Google's "ordinary course of business," meaning federal wiretap laws protect the company and similar Electronic Communication Service (ECS) providers from litigation.
"While plaintiffs go to great lengths to portray Google in a sinister light, the complaint actually confirms that the automated processes at issue are Google’s ordinary business practices implemented as part of providing the free Gmail service to the public. This is fatal to plaintiffs’ claims," the Google attorneys state.
Google provides examples of how services like Gmail couldn't function without scanning. For instance, a user wouldn't be able to sort their emails using automated filters because any such system would require scanning the contents of the emails. Users also wouldn't be able to search their own emails for particular key terms because this would require scanning content. In other words, scanning is a root function of any email service, and doesn't mean content is being intercepted and read like a stolen diary.
The problem Google faces now is that it has admitted that Gmail users should assume no right to privacy regarding their messages. This view arrives amidst an escalating scandal revolving around tech companies like Google and Microsoft, government surveillance, and consumer rights. While there has always been speculation that Big Brother is watching everyone both offline and online, former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden's disclosure of government documents and recorded phone calls opened the door to a whole new level of secret government surveillance.
"Google has finally admitted they don't respect privacy," stated John M. 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."
Simpson argues that handing Google an email is identical to giving the mailman an envelope to deliver. It's expected to be delivered to the recipient based on the email address, completely unopened and unread. Why would anyone expect their messages to be retrieved and read by Google?
Google is currently asking the court to reject the plaintiffs' claims because their interpretation of what they consider "illegal interception" would make it impossible for any email company to provide normal services. What's more, scanning has been a part of email services for nearly a decade.