Google under fire over email privacy court filing

Google is under fire from privacy advocates after a one of its filings to a US court hinted that all email users should have little expectation of privacy if they intend to interact with a Gmail service.   

The claim came as part of Google's defence in a class action against its email scanning activities. The company uses keywords in its users emails to target its in-system advertising, and the plaintiffs claim that this activity violates both state and federal US wiretap laws. 

In a motion to dismiss filing (PDF), Google said that as part of its terms and conditions for its email service, a given user has "expressly consented to automated scanning in exchange for using the free Gmail service".

However, the company went on to say that this condition also "reasonably" applies to those sending an email from a rival service - like Yahoo or Hotmail - to a Gmail account. Essentially, all emails going through Google's servers are automatically scanned. 

US-based advocacy firm Consumer Watchdog railed against the filings, saying that it demonstrates that Google does not respect privacy.  In a statement, the group's chief privacy project director John M. Simpson said email should be treated like snail mail. 

“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," he said. 

"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?” he said. 

Google's filing went on to say that email scanning for advertising purposes is a common practice in the industry and is also harnessed by its rivals in the space, Yahoo and Microsoft. 

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