Wiretapping laws apply to Google intercepting emails, federal judge says

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Google’s intercepting users’ email to better target advertising to those users does is not exempted under wiretapping laws, Judge Lucy Koh said, rejecting in part Google’s attempt to have a class action suit over its intercepting practices dismissed.

“The alleged interception of emails at issue here is both physically and purposively unrelated to Google’s provision of email services,” Koh wrote, meaning it does not fall under wiretapping law exemptions for necessary business practices.

The court also found fault with Google’s arguments that it did not violate wiretapping rules because its users consented to having their emails intercepted by agreeing to the company’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policies.

The various versions of those policies “did not explicitly notify Plaintiffs that Google would intercept users’ emails for the purposes of creating user profiles or providing targeted advertising,” Koh wrote.

Non-Gmail users have given even less consent, Koh said, rejecting Google’s notion that “by merely sending emails to or receiving emails from a Gmail user, a non-Gmail user has consented to Google’s interception of such emails for any purposes.”

In a statement, a Google spokespman said the company is “disappointed in this decision and ... considering our options.”

“Automated scanning lets us provide Gmail users with security and spam protection, as well as great features like Priority Inbox,’ the spokesperson said.

Privacy advocates praised the ruling. 

“This is a historic step for holding Internet communications subject to the same privacy laws that exist in the rest of society,” John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project, said in a statement.

“The ruling means federal and state wiretap laws apply to the Internet. ... Companies like Google can't simply do whatever they want with our data and emails,” he said.