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No expectation of privacy, says Google

I spent yesterday afternoon in Judge Koh’s courtroom listening to arguments on whether or not the class action suit against Google based on their scanning of emails for advertising purposes can go forward. This is the case that made news a few weeks ago because Google stated in their brief that users have “no expectation of privacy” in using online services.
That does appear to be what Google is actually saying, based on the arguments by attorney Whitty Somvichian. He made it clear that Google considers everything that passes through their servers, including the content of emails, covered under “information provided to Google” in the privacy policy. Google is arguing that they can read, scan, and use that content to display ads and anything else they consider to be in the normal course of business.
I have pages and pages of notes but I have some paying work to finish before I can focus on writing up the case. There were multiple reporters and bloggers in the courtroom, but I’ve not found many article. Some I’ve found are:

This is an interesting case, though. The plaintiffs are asserting that Google scans and “reads” (electronically) every message that comes through their systems and that this is illegal interception. Google is stating that this is part of their normal business processes and vital for providing the Gmail service.
The judge had Google’s lawyer walk her through the different privacy policies submitted with the motion to dismiss. She wanted to know what specific phrases in the policies state that Google will be scanning information.
The defense lawyer asserted that Google tells users that any information “provided to Google” will be used, and that the content of emails sent to and from Gmail are part of the information “provided to Google.” This was a bit of a surprise to me, because I expect information I give to Google to be things like my phone number and recovery account addresses. I even expect the content of my docs stored on Google docs to be “information provided to Google.” But I never really expected the content of my emails to be part of that.
The plaintiff’s lawyer pointed out that the advertising is a “smokescreen” and that the real point of all of this is for Google to amass data about users and non-users. This data accumulation is not for the benefit of the users, it’s for the benefit of Google.
I’ll be going through my notes and the complaint this weekend and should have a more detailed post up early next week; I have some paying work to finish before I can focus on the case.
The judge scheduled a case management meeting for October 2 at which point they’re going to set a trial date. She does still have the option of granting Google’s motion, but I did not get the impression she was inclined to do that.

6 comments

  1. John L says

    Typo: Google’s lawyer is Whitty Somvichian

    1. laura says

      Thanks, John. I was so concerned about getting the last name right I missed that h in his first name.

  2. BrianS says

    If a Yahoo user sends an email to someone at Gmail, that user never affirmatively agreed to Google’s privacy policy. Is that part of the argument?

    1. laura says

      That is part of the argument, yes.

  3. steve says

    Another part of the argument is that once the Yahoo user has sent the email to someone at Gmail then the content belongs to the Gmail user and *they* have agreed to share it with Google.
    It’s going to be interesting to watch.

  4. This month in email: September 2013 – Word to the Wise says

    […] of the federal wiretapping statutes and state wiretapping laws. On September 5th I attended a hearing on Google’s motion to dismiss in San Jose. The judge issued her ruling on September 26, […]

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