Google is sued for showing ads in Gmail based on email content

For a long time now Google has been showing ads to Gmail users, with many of these ads being specifically targeted based on the content of emails. Google has embedded this right to serve ads based on email content into Gmail’s terms of use. Anyone that uses Gmail consents to these terms and therefore consents to email-based targeted ads; the only choice anyone has that doesn’t want Google scanning emails to serve targeted ads is to simply stop using Gmail. But what about people who don’t use Gmail? They have not agreed to Gmail’s terms of use, so does Google have the right to scan emails sent by these users to Gmail accounts and use the email content to serve ads? One lawsuit filed again Google says no.

Wayne Plimmer of British Columbia (Canada) is not a Gmail user; he has no Gmail accounts, has not agreed to Gmail’s terms of use, and, as such, has not consented to Google scanning his emails to serve ads. However, he sends emails to Gmail users and those emails are obviously being used to serve ads. Plimmer feels Google does not have the right to do this and has filed a class-action lawsuit against Google in that regard.

The lawsuit demands damages of $500 per email used by Google to serve ads and wants an injunction against Google to stop the company from using emails for serving ads (presumably only emails that are sent to Gmail accounts). The suit is filed on behalf of everyone living in British Columbia that has sent an email to a Gmail account but could potentially be expanded if similar lawsuits spring up across the country.

Google has yet to comment on this lawsuit. I’m no lawyer nor do I live in Canada, so I won’t try to comment on the validity, or lack thereof, of this lawsuit; however, it isn’t hard to imagine this turning into a legal quagmire for the company.

[via ArsTechnica]

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9 comments

  1. rover3500

    Google knows
    1)Most people won’t stop using gmail even with this privacy intrusion it’s what they’re used to,and it’s hassle opening a new account and redirecting all ur mail.
    2)These are clever people when it comes to advertising/what people will put up with so they know what they’re doing.
    3)Alot of people don’t just use Gmail,they’re like me and use many of Googles services,so they’re not gonna want to change email,it’s all one package if u want main benefit of service.I’ve started using Chrome now as I like it signing in to everything and syncing without third party software.I for one think most of Google’s stuff is awsome,like street view for instance so u can see where ur going b4 u do,or calendars that work out your journey for u according to ur appontments and let u know in time to get there,plus many more,it’s all one big package…people don’t think about if u had to pay for all this stuff it would cost a fortune.
    Of course they will push the boundaries they are a business that wants to grow(even more).(I have nothing to do with Google I’d better mention)
    I don’t want people reading my emails,but from what I understand it’s a computer that picks out keywords from the email, rather than someone sitting there laughing at all your private mails which would be unacceptable,so it’s not being read;I don’t really see the problem here.
    Of course he’s just after some cash.I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t care about his emails being ‘scanned’.Where did he get that amount from?

  2. Mary

    Everyone posting so far has good points on both sides of the story. In my opinion, anything relating to the internet is no longer personal or private.
    If you want to send someone a personal message, use the USPS (or whatever they call snail mail in your area). Not only is it mostly private, but you’ll be supporting that brick and mortar business and possibly creating more jobs! Isn’t that a cool concept? We, the people creating jobs because we use the service, and not relying on government to do it? ;)

  3. David

    I don’t think there a valid suit here. When he sent the email he gave up some rights to the content of that email. Any email I receive I am able to forward to someone else, post on a blog, etc. and the sender may not like it, but they sent me the email.
    Maybe if you add one of the disclaimers at the bottom of your emails that says I don’t give permission to forward this email or post its contents or to have any service use it to post ads, maybe if you did that you would have a shot at stopping this practice.

  4. Mags

    While I’m not a lawyer this lawsuit does make sense. From what I understand, one generally asks for more than what they expect to get.

    I agree with Paul D, scanning someone’s email IS UNACCEPTABLE!

    I also think that Google does not have to right to have someone agree to that in their TOS as it is an infringement on one’s right to privacy!

  5. meldasue

    Not only does the sender not consent to gmail’s TOS, but he/she might not even know the e-mail will be delivered to a gmail account, since many people run all their e-mail through gmail.

    What I don’t like is the money part – sure, Google makes money off ads generated by the e-mails, but I’m guessing it’s a fraction of a cent per e-mail, not $500. An injunction and the plaintiff’s legal costs should be all that is permitted, because the plaintiff hasn’t suffered any monetary harm.

  6. ArtKns

    He is just looking for deep pockets to get rich quick. Google should just countersue for frivolous lawsuits. That would make these parasites think twice.

    Plimmer is not being harmed if Google inserts an ad – he doesn’t even see them.