Google Tells Court You Cannot Expect Privacy When Sending Messages to Gmail — People Who Care About Privacy Should Not Use Service, Consumer Watchdog Says

SANTA MONICA, CA — In a stunning admission contained in a brief filed recently in federal court, lawyers for Google said people should not expect privacy when they send messages to a Gmail account. Consumer Watchdog said today that people who care about their email correspondents’ privacy should not use the Internet giant’s service.

Google’s brief said: “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. Indeed, ‘a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.’” (Motion to dismiss, Page 19)

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

“Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy,” said 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.”

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 emails to determine what ads to serve based on the message’s content. 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

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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?”

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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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