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Judge Allows Google Suit to Go Forward

2 Oct, 2013 By: Doug McPherson

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Consumers may proceed with their lawsuit against Google after a federal judge refused to dismiss the suit alleging the company violated federal wiretap laws by scanning E-mails to surround them with contextual ads.

U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh rejected Google’s argument that people who send or receive E-mail consent to the automated scans. “The Court … cannot conclude that any party … has consented to Google’s reading of E-mail for the purposes of creating user profiles or providing targeted advertising,” Koh wrote.

In 2010, users accused Google of violating laws by intercepting E-mails to serve them ads that match keywords in messages. Google said the case should be dismissed because users consented to the scans when they accepted the company’s terms of service.

But Koh says Google didn’t clearly communicate to users that Google might send ads based on E-mail content. She said that even though the terms of service in effect before March 2012 reserved the right to “pre-screen” content, Google implied that it would only do so in order to filter out objectionable material – as opposed to serving targeted ads.

Google’s terms say the company might target ads based on information stored on the service. But Koh says the wording didn’t alert people that their E-mails might be scanned for ad purposes.

Google revised its privacy policies in March 2012, but Koh found they were “no clearer than their predecessors.” She wrote, “A reasonable Gmail user who read the Privacy Policies would not have necessarily understood that her E-mails were being intercepted to create user profiles or to provide targeted advertisements.”

Google also said that even non-Gmail users “implicitly” consent, arguing that everyone understands that E-mail is processed by third parties. Koh also disagreed with Google’s contention on that point. Google said in a statement that it is “disappointed” in the ruling, and is considering its options.

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