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Google E-Mail Intercepting and “Wiretapping” of E-Mails Investigation

When you send an e-mail, is it OK with you if your recipient’s e-mail provider intercepts it and scan its contents? That’s what Google did, and a lawsuit tried to put a stop to it last year.

Google intercepted e-mails to Gmail users, scanned the contents, then used them to serve up advertising. It did not tell senders like you that it was doing this. Crucially, the lawsuit was brought by a sender who had no Google accounts and so could not have consented to this violation of privacy.

The lawsuit contended that Google’s interception constituted wiretapping. California’s Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA) forbids such interception unless all parties to the communication have consented. Other states, such as New Hampshire, Florida, Massachusetts, and Maryland have similar laws.

The settlement required (1) that Google move the point of interception to after the Gmail recipient has opened the e-mail, and (2) that Google must tell consumers about the practice.

What it did not do was compensate the non-Gmail users for the invasion of privacy. We’re investigating to see if a class action is needed for that.

If you sent e-mails to Gmail users between August 1, 2017 and September 23, 2017, but had no Google accounts yourself until at least October 2017, we’d like to hear from you. Fill out the form on this page for a free consultation.

Unfortunately, the lawsuit did not end Google’s practices. Google said in its defense in the case that it does not believe that consumers can expect e-mail privacy: “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 e-mails are processed by the recipient’s [email provider] in the course of delivery.” (Never mind that a huge company like Google is nothing like an assistant who obeys the business person.)

In fact, the title of a white paper dated July 30, 2018, directed at the Federal Trade Commission, began, “A Case Study of Alphabet-Google’s 2004-2018 Privacy Track Record of Evident Unfair and Deceptive Over-collection of Consumers’ Personal Data…” A subheading within the paper was, “From 2004 to 2018 Google has established an evident, serial recidivist track record of unfairly, deceptively, and systemically intercepting and misusing personal communications that consumers reasonably expect are private.”

Among the practices cited, the paper noted Google’s e-mail data collection and its practice of still recording location information on Android devices after users believed they had turned the data collection off. This last came to light in another recent class action.

Sometimes class actions are the only way to make an impression on large, powerful companies that can steamroller individual users. At the very least, if Google has snooped into your e-mails without so much as telling you, shouldn’t it pay some compensation?

Article Type: Investigation
Topic: Consumer
No case events.
Tags: Collecting Personal Data Without Notice/Consent, Your Privacy