On October 26th, a federal court in California allowed a lawsuit against Google Inc. to proceed in which it is alleged that Google has violated privacy laws by scanning the emails of persons who do not use Google’s email service, Gmail, for the purpose of advertisement optimization.
While it is currently legal for Google and other email service providers to scan the emails of their users in effort to advertise more effectively, it seems that Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District Court of California is suspect of the legality of a company tapping emails of those to whom it does not provide service, and who have not agreed to the relevant Terms of Service.
This is not the only such lawsuit faced by our nation’s “best company to work for” (2013); in another case it is alleged that the web giant has infringed on the privacy of Americans in the photographing of millions of US addresses for the Street View function of Google Maps. As was reported by the New York Times, because hundreds of millions of people use Google’s services around the world, “if it is, as expected, certified as a class action, the fines could be enormous.”
John Simpson, of the Consumer Watchdog privacy project, remarks that “This is a historic step for holding Internet communications subject to the same privacy laws that exist in the rest of society,” and I agree, but cautiously: with a company as big as Google ($10.7 billion net profit FY2012) that has a history of avoiding penalty for privacy violation, anything is possible.