Google Is Either Lying To The Court Or To The Public, Consumer Watchdog Says

SANTA MONICA, CA – Google is either lying to the court or lying to the public, Consumer Watchdog said today, after the Internet giant made new public claims asserting it respects users’ privacy that contradicted an earlier court filing it made. Google said in a court filing that there was no legitimate expectation of privacy when emails were sent to its system.

If what Google claimed publicly in response a news release from Consumer Watchdog is true, then Google must amend the court filing and stop reading and analyzing the content of emails sent to its system, Consumer Watchdog said.

“Google simply cannot be allowed to have it both ways, saying whatever suits them at the moment,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.

On Wednesday Google claimed in response to Consumer Watchdog:

“We take our users’ privacy and security very seriously; recent reports claiming otherwise are simply untrue. We have built industry-leading security and privacy features into Gmail — and no matter who sends an email to a Gmail user, those protections apply.”

Google’s motion to dismiss a class action suit made this obviously contradictory claim:

“Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the

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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. Indeed, ‘a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.’ Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 743-44 (1979)” [Motion to dismiss, Page 19]

Read Google’s motion to dismiss here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/googlemotion061313.pdf

“If they take privacy seriously, then they must amend their brief and stop reading and analyzing the content of email we send to their system,” said Simpson. “If Google stands by the claim of no expectation of privacy it asserted in the court filing, they cannot claim to respect users’ privacy. These two claims are obviously incompatible.”

Google made the statement that people can’t expect privacy when sending a message to a Gmail address in a response to a class action complaint filed in multi-district litigation. The suit says Google violates federal and state wiretap laws when the company reads and analyzes emails.

The class action complaint was filed under seal because it details many of Google’s business practices about the way it handles email. A highly redacted version of the complaint was filed publicly. Read it here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/gmailcomplaint051613.pdf

A hearing in the case, In re Google Inc. Gmail Litigation, Case No. 5:13-md-02430-LHK, will be held before Judge Lucy H. Koh in U.S. District Court in San Jose, CA. at 1:30 p.m., Sept. 5.

“Google’s brief uses a wrong-headed analogy; sending an email is like giving a letter to the Post Office,” said Simpson. “I expect the Post Office to deliver the letter based on the address written on the envelope. I don’t expect the mail carrier to open my letter and read it. Similarly when I send an email, I expect it to be delivered to the intended recipient with a Gmail account based on the email address; why would I expect its content will be intercepted by Google and read?”
Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director John Simpson will be hosting a Reddit AMA this afternoon to further discuss Google and its privacy issues. Follow Consumer Watchdog (@ConsumerWD) on Twitter for more details.

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Published by John M. Simpson

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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