Last month, Google took action to dismiss a lawsuit which accused the company of breaking wiretap laws when it scans emails sent from other email providers to Gmail users (for the purposes of serving ads). Advocacy group Consumer Watchdog recently uncovered the filing and says they found a “stunning admission” from the internet giant.
Apparently, in their motion to dismiss the case, Google said that anyone that sends an email to any of Gmail’s 425 million users have no “reasonable expectation” that their communications are confidential. The company also added that the plaintiffs were attempting to “criminalise ordinary business practices” that have been part of Gmail since the very beginning, and that “all users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing.”
Google’s explanation also came with their very own analogy for the situation:
“Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS [electronic communications service] provider in the course of delivery.”
John Simpson, who is Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director and a long-time Google critic, fired back with an analogy of his own:
“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.
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?”
Simpson adds that “Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy. People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy, don’t use Gmail.”
A Google spokesperson responded by saying: “We take our users’ privacy and security very seriously; recent reports claiming otherwise are simply untrue. We have built industry-leading security and privacy features into Gmail — and no matter who sends an email to a Gmail user, those protections apply.”
While I have to agree with Google’s assertion that Gmail has typically always had industry-leading security, I’m not so convinced about Gmail’s privacy aspect. But, hey, I’m still using it so…