Google to Face Suit Over Scanning of Messages in Gmail

A federal judge in San Jose has ruled that Google is obligated to face a lawsuit alleging that the company unlawfully opened and read the contents of emails sent through Gmail. This conduct is in violation of federal laws prohibiting wiretapping.

Seven lawsuits against Google have been consolidated into one. The court has concluded that email users have not consented to the reading of emails for the purposes of providing targeted advertising or creating user profiles. Google has countered that the emails are automatically scanned by machines to target specific words used in the messages, but that people are never involved in directly reading anything. Google claims that this scanning allows them to provide users with spam and security protection, and is disappointed with the court’s decision. Google has said in a statement that it is considering its options.

The judge is allowing Google to throw out claims filed under state law, but refused to dismiss federal filings. Plaintiffs will, however, be able to refile any state claims that were dismissed.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court refused to dismiss another lawsuit accusing the company of violating wiretapping laws when its fleet of Street View cars inadvertently swept up passwords, emails, and other sensitive personal information from unencrypted wireless networks. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Google could be held responsible for damages for illegally obtaining personal data from unsuspecting households while photographing streets for the popular Google Maps service.

Google claims that users agree to have their emails scanned as part of their terms and privacy policy, and that the lawsuit is seeking to criminalize ordinary business practices.

Internet privacy watchdogs are calling this lawsuit a major victory for online privacy.