According to Google, the 425 millions users of Gmail, the email system that is run by Google, should have no reasonable expectation that their communications should be considered private or protected. This, at least in accordance to what Google stated in a court filing.
The group that uncovered the filing, Consumer Watchdog, has stated that this revelation is a “stunning admission” by Google as it comes during the time of new information about the current NSA surveillance of US citizens and foreign nationals.
John Simpson, the privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog stated, “Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy. People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy, don’t use Gmail.”
Google’s position is seemingly in response to an attempt to dismiss a class action lawsuit that accuses them of breaking wiretapping laws when it scans emails from accounts other than Google in order to target their ads specifically to users of Gmail.
That lawsuit claims that Google unlawfully opens and reads other people’s emails and takes the content for their own use. In response, Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt responded, “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”
Is Google Breaking the Law?
The question of whether Google is acting illegally will depend on how the internet giant is seen in the light of the law. Whether Google is a private business with an internal communication system that users are subject to having their emails obtained or whether Google has presented itself as a public trust and thus subject to privacy laws.
The lawsuit itself claims that Google has crossed the “creepy line” on a daily basis for many years. That the intention of Google is acquire the information contained in the emails in order to promote their own business more effectively. The statements made by Google about no expectations of privacy for using Gmail was an effort to get the lawsuit dismissed.
Google has cited other cases to help back their point that the email system is not subject to privacy laws and therefore no expectation should be given about protecting emails from those who run the system. In essence, that there is no expectation of privacy given by Google, therefore no expectation that privacy is granted.
However, while the lawyers for Google have made one claim, spokespersons for Google have seemingly contradicted it. For example, a Google spokesperson recently stated that they take the privacy of users seriously and that recent reports that claim otherwise are not true. Whether such statements have any validity in court is another matter.
It must be noted that Google’s statements in court are directed at those who use other email providers and send their emails through the Gmail system, not to users of Gmail itself. Whether such distinctions have merit in the court of law remains to be seen.
Until there are further developments in the Google lawsuit, the question of whether they are breaking the law will remain in doubt as both sides have merit to their cases.