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Big Players Getting Named in Privacy Suits

9 Oct, 2013 By: Doug McPherson

SAN JOSE, Calif. – In less than two weeks, two mega Internet companies are finding themselves sinking deeper into privacy lawsuits.

Last week, two Californians filed what might become an ugly class-action lawsuit against Yahoo for scanning E-mails so it could to surround them with targeted ads. The lawsuit comes about a week after a judge ruled that a similar Google ad program potentially violates the federal wiretap law (Response This Week, Oct. 2).

In their complaint against Yahoo, Californians Tammy Zapata and John Kevranian say Yahoo illegally scanned messages they sent to Yahoo users. Zapata and Kevranian say they don't have Yahoo E-mail accounts so they never agreed to the company's terms of service – which state it analyzes all communications to “personalize” E-mail with relevant ads. They allege Yahoo intentionally “intercepts and reviews the content of their electronic communications for financial gain.”

Additionally, the complaint argues that makes Yahoo guilty of violating the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which prohibits companies from intercepting communications without users' consent.

The complaint mirrors a long-running class action accusing Google of violating the federal wiretap law by serving contextual ads in Gmail. In that case, U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California rejected Google's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Koh said in the ruling that non-Gmail users don't consent to have their messages scanned. Koh also ruled that Gmail users don't consent to the interceptions, because Google's terms of service don't clearly explain its scanning program.

Google has scanned Gmail messages since rolling out the service in 2004. Yahoo only started doing it in 2011.

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