Google says no "legitimate privacy" for Gmail users

Gmail users should not expect “legitimate privacy” when they send emails using the service, according to a legal brief representing Google.

In a brief filed in federal court, Google lawyers said users “cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient’s email provider in the course of delivery”.

“Indeed, a person has not legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties,” the brief said.

A highly redacted copy of the complaint is available at the Consumer Watchdog website here (PDF). It argues that, due to Google’s silence, users do not consent to Google reading the content of email messages, as well as asserting Google is violating state and federal wiretap laws because the company combs through emails to help it with its targeted advertising.

Google’s motion to dismiss is available here (PDF) and repeatedly references how the process is automated, and suggests users are aware.

Google also says if the way it access emails are changed, it could criminalise services like spam filtering and search.

The motion reads:

“Plaintiffs’ claims should be rejected because they would lead to anomalous results with far-ranging consequences beyond the allegations in the Complaint. Plaintiffs’ theory–that any scanning of email content by ECS providers is illegal–would effectively criminalize routine practices that are an everyday aspect of using email. Indeed, Plaintiffs’ effort to carve out spam filtering and virus detection from their claims underscores the fact that their theory of liability would otherwise encompass these common services that email users depend on.

District judge Luck H Koh will hear the case on 5 September in a San Francisco District Court.

Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director, John M Simpson, said users should take Google at its word. “

If you care about your email correspondents’ privacy don’t use Gmail,” Simpson said. “Google’s brief uses a wrong-headed analogy. Sending an email is like giving a letter to the Post Office, 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”. 

TechEye has approached Google for a response.