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Users Have No Expectation of Privacy in Gmail Says Google

Users Have No Expectation of Privacy in Gmail Says Google
Users Have No Expectation of Privacy in Gmail Says Google

The ruling in question states, “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.” Its invocation in the Google brief immediately follows a statement that is causing much concern and debate:

"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 communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS provider in the course of delivery."

This, says John Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog, is a wrong-headed analogy. “I expect the Post Office to deliver the letter based on the address written on 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?”

Google's argument is that the business model for Gmail is based on automated scanning to deliver targeted advertising to pay for the service, and that users understand and accept this practice. 

The class action against Google (redacted copy available here courtesy of Consumer Watchdog) highlights Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt's comment, "Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it." It goes on to claim, "Unbeknownst to millions of people, on a daily basis and for years, Google has systematically and intentionally crossed the 'creepy line' to read private email messages."

It is the apparent contradiction between Google's legal claim that users have no expectation of privacy, and the public statements it makes elsewhere that are causing concern. The headline on Google's Policies and Principles web page says clearly, "We are committed to improving your security, protecting your privacy, and building simple tools to give you choice and control."

This implies, contrary to the Smith Vs Maryland ruling, Google users can have an expectation of privacy with Google because Google is committed to improving its users security and protecting their privacy.

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